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[Review] Startup Communities


“We need to be like Silicon Valley,” we hear many a startup community organizer around the world intone. After all, Silicon Valley been held up as a shining example as a hotbed for startups and many clamor to copy its success in positioning themselves as a similar scene for innovation and technological entrepreneurship.

But early-stage investor and entrepreneur Bred Feld, the co-founder of VC firms Mobius and Foundry, as well as startup accelerator TechStars, thinks trying to be Silicon Valley is a fool’s errand. In his book “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City“, Feld explores the various factors that contribute to a successful startup community and argues that the success of a startup community is heavily dependent on the make-up of the environmental and geographical factors in which that community resides. And Feld should know – he’s been an integral part of the startup community in Boulder, Colorado, and has seen the entrepreneurial scene there (and in other parts of the United States) flourish and grow.

Feld suggests four key factors that determine how successful a startup community will be in what he calls the Boulder Thesis:

1. That entrepreneurs must be the ones who lead the community (as opposed to, for example, governmental forces),

2. That the leaders who lead and guide the community must have a long-term commitment to the scene,

3. The startup community must be wholly inclusive of anyone who participates in it, and

4. There must be continual activities that engage every level of that entrepreneurial stack.

The entrepreneur-turned venture capitalist then details these principles for forming a sustainable startup community,  and look at how leaders of any startup community can grow that entrepreneurial ecosystem by connecting entrepreneurs and mentors, improving access to entrepreneurial education and other resources, as well as generating the right activities and events that will pull every player in the startup community.

In “Startup Communities“, Feld is quick to downplay the role of the government in the success of any startup community (in fact he devotes an entire chapter to contrasting the differences between entrepreneurs and the government (are you listening, Singapore?):

Entrepreneurs are hard wired to take action; government leaders focus on creating policy. Once again there is a fundamental disconnect in language that can simultaneously consume an enormous amount of energy and make entrepreneurial leaders insanely frustrated.

Feld also highlights the examples of Young Entrepreneurs Organization (now known as Entrepreneurs Organization), the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup, as well as Startup Weekend (which is also now the subject of another book) as the kinds of activities that are needed to help the community grow, sustain, and go the distance. Throughout the book, you can actually feel Feld’s optimism – if a city has passionate founders and entrepreneurs, people who are willing to take up the mantle and run, have the right infrastructure in place and events that engage such people, that city can build a sustainable startup community.

If you have any business building an entrepreneurial community in your city, or are a founder who wants to infect your community with an entrepreneurial go-getter spirit, this book is for you. In fact, buy a few copies and pass around to like-minded people like yourself. You may just build the next Silicon Valley yet.