San Francisco is an incredible place for startups. There are so many positive factors to encourage entrepreneurs and help them along the way. It was an eye-opener.
More than anything, everyone’s openness, availability and participation makes the difference.
In order for startups to succeed, you need lots of different people:
- New entrepreneurs
- Veteran entrepreneurs
- Angel investors
- Venture capitalists
- Supporting players (lawyers, accountants, marketing, PR, etc.)
Everyone needs to hop into the sandbox and play. And that’s exactly what you get in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It’s a giant mashup of non-stop events and networking opportunities. Meeting top people and key players is easy. And generally, people seem willing to help.
The startup ecosystem in San Francisco is designed to help startups succeed. Doesn’t mean everyone succeeds, but having the ecosystem in place certainly helps.
So that begs the question: How can a startup ecosystem be built and promoted elsewhere?
It’s certainly possible. The folks at Outside the Valley recommend building a “nerd-haven” since most high-tech startups are run by nerds, and the people that fund them are also nerds. They offer two initial steps:
- Create a city with a tech creative-class culture.
- Create a city with a world-class university.
Montreal has both — although I question how effective our universities are at developing entrepreneurs. Still, there’s a lot going on in Montreal and elsewhere to help build out startup ecosystems. But more is needed.
- Successful entrepreneurs have to give back. Too many successful entrepreneurs don’t participate in the startup community. This leads to a lack of experienced mentors and advisers able to help and encourage new crops of entrepreneurs. And “giving back” doesn’t have to be solely altruistic; many successful entrepreneurs in San Francisco go on to become angel investors and VCs. It behooves experienced entrepreneurs to keep an ear to the ground – for their own investment opportunities and future projects.
- Angel investors need to raise their profiles. There are more angel investors out there than people realize, but they’re not very high profile. Angel and early seed financing is critical for most startups; but few of them know where to look. Once again, this comes down to being accessible and willing to participate in the community. In San Francisco, this isn’t a problem at all. Most angels find deals through referrals, and I can understand they don’t want to be pitched non-stop but some of the best opportunities are going to be tucked away in corners that angels and their networks just can’t reach without getting out there.
If more experienced entrepreneurs and angels stepped up and participated in the ecosystem it would also draw others into the mix. Startups need lots of help from lawyers, accountants, etc. But I’ve rarely met any “support people” at Montreal events.
Rob May nailed it when he wrote, It’s The Network, Not The Valley, That Causes Success. The Valley is a giant melting pot of people, not silos of investors, entrepreneurs, mentors, etc. working and meeting separately. Everyone’s mashed up together.
Of course, there’s more to a successful startup ecosystem than veteran entrepreneurs and angels.
- Governments should get out of the way. Make it as easy and painless to start a company as possible. Play favorites with scrappy startups trying to create jobs and wealth, but otherwise leave ‘em alone.
- Existing startups have to get involved. You can’t blame everyone else if no one knows you exist. Every week I discover a new startup in Montreal that no one has heard about, and that makes absolutely no sense. You should be blogging, participating at every event, and reaching out.
- More cheerleading. We need to brag more about the startups that are making a go of it. We need to promote them more. A little “back slapping” never hurt anyone, and a healthy ego is needed. And don’t worry if they fail, all they’ve done is prepared themselves for the next startup, and the one after that, and the one after that…
- More startups. We get into a bit of “chicken and egg” at this point, but ultimately no startup ecosystem works without more startups. People need to be starting more companies. Just look at what these guys are doing starting one micro-startup per week.
A startup ecosystem works when everyone needed for startups to succeed gets into a room and meets everyone else.
Everyone has to see the value in being open, accessible and participatory. The network breeds success, and this is what works so well in the Valley.