Governments Should Fund Startup Travel Programs

Occasionally I meet a government official and he asks me, “What should the government do to help startups?”

I always say the same four things:

  1. Provide funds
  2. Get out of the way
  3. Make startup visas a reality (but this is a conversation for another day)
  4. And launch a startup travel program


Most governments already provide funds (although they should be continuously looking at how and where, and the efficacy of those funds, because I suspect a lot of money is wasted or given out inappropriately).

Some governments understand the need to get out of the way. By that I mean that governments should not dabble in startups. They should put the capital into capable and trustworthy hands, and let those people (who are hopefully experienced investors and/or startup operators) deploy the capital. This definitely happens in a few places, which is great. And there are also capable investor that are government employees too (just to provide the appropriate caveat here!)

Governments can also get out of the way by streamlining as many processes that involve startups as possible. Things like incorporation, filing taxes, employment paperwork, etc. should be as simple as possible for startups to do.

A lot of this is already working reasonably well. So neither of those suggestions are terribly actionable. But I think the fourth one is, and would be quite simple to realize.

The government should have a program that pays for entrepreneurs to visit San Francisco (Valley / Bay area) or New York to experience the best startup ecosystems around.

Here’s how I think about it:

  • Entrepreneurs that are based anywhere outside of the Bay area and New York need to get to the Bay area and New York (and perhaps elsewhere like Boston, or any major city that has a lot of startup activity) to learn and connect.
  • They need to go there because the acquirers, investors, partners and customers are all there.
  • The benefits of spending a few weeks in the Valley and San Francisco are incredible — you’ll build an instant and valuable network, you’ll see “how it’s done”, and you’ll bring some of that fire and spirit back. You’ll realize that the world is moving insanely fast and you need to do so as well to compete and win.
  • Traveling to the startup meccas of the world is an eye opening and unforgettable experience (I remember doing it in 2007 and it changed me).

It’s incredibly easy to plug into Silicon Valley. You need to know a couple key people and you need some money to get there and stay there (for longer than a week). You can anchor your visit around a couple of events (there are multiple events daily, so there’s plenty to do), and if you’re from Canada you can plug into existing networks like the C100 or other well known Canadian entrepreneurs. You can use Clarity to connect with Canadian entrepreneurs about going to the Valley to connect with other Canadian entrepreneurs (and non-Canadian ones too). Incidentally, Clarity is run by a Canadian (Dan Martell).

Of course, this idea is relevant for places other than Canada.

If you’re anywhere other than Silicon Valley or New York, a startup (or founder) travel program makes sense. When a government official in Omaha, Nebraska (where I was promoting Lean Analytics) asked me what the government could do, I pitched him the travel idea. Nebraska has a lot of great startup activity, but it needs to send its best entrepreneurs to San Francisco and/or New York to have their eyes opened in a big way.

When you go, you need to stay for a couple weeks at least. Three or four is even better. You don’t need to have a ton of meetings lined up, just go. And the government could pay.

It wouldn’t be expensive: ~$5-$10,000 each time. The government wouldn’t pay for everything, just cover the flight, a place to stay and maybe tickets to a couple of events (if they’re not free).

There would have to be a vetting process for the entrepreneurs (the government isn’t there to pay for your vacation to the Valley!) but this wouldn’t be hard to do. Put together a small group of startup leaders and get them to recommend entrepreneurs or vote on entrepreneurs that apply.

If we (in Canada) sent 20 entrepreneurs per year it would cost about $200,000 to do so, but the value would be incredible. Each one of them would come back more connected, with a lot more knowledge and a ton more enthusiasm and excitement. Plus they might find a customer or two, a partner, or an investor, all of which brings capital back into the country. Those twenty entrepreneurs become new connectors to key startup ecosystems that others can now leverage, which in turn builds stronger and longer lasting bridges between us and those ecosystems. Everyone wins.

I’ve seen some programs that help entrepreneurs get to the Valley, but I think more could be done. Hopefully someone makes it happen…

April 15, 2013 Posted in Entrepreneurship by

  • http://www.barcodesaustralia.com Barcodes Australia

    If the right entrepreneurs are chosen, there could be a really good return on investment, as long as they return to their home country

  • http://www.bizsugar.com/ Heather Stone

    Hi Ben,

    Appreciated running across your post on the BizSugar community. I think the benefit of studying other startup ecosystems shouldn’t be underrated. It can also go beyond travel programs for local entrepreneurs. How about also arranging for local visits by successful entrepreneurs and leaders in entrepreneurship or seminars and workshops that bring experts into your community so that they can give you some insight into what local resources you may be overlooking?

  • http://www.yepi2.info/ yepi2

    Given the current difficult economic enterprises had to choose for themselves the important steps in order not to lose it all. thank you

  • http://yepi-games.kizifriv1.com/ Yepi Friv

    It’s not exactly normal for me to read this kind of subject matter,

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Sure…bringing in successful entrepreneurs is helpful, but that’s already happening in a lot of places. Most cities get people coming in for various events, or have mentors (at accelerators). Unfortunately a lot of this is high level platitudes about what it takes to be successful — I’d much prefer throwing someone out of their comfort zone and sending them into the hailstorm of a crazy startup ecosystem for a few weeks and see what happens.

  • http://www.friv4game.net/ Friv 4

    I also greatly appreciate your visit and the information that you have left. Wish you good luck always

  • molasses jones

    You don’t need successful entrepreneurs in order to create success you need drive, an unwillingness to quit, talent, money, and a plan to get them if you don’t have them already.

  • Bill Hibbler

    Hi Ben,

    Great advice for startups. How did the State of Nebraska respond to your suggestion?

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    I don’t know. Probably nothing. I haven’t heard.

    I am working on some opportunities in Halifax, Nova Scotia (where I’m based) around this … so stay tuned for that.

  • http://twitter.com/AeroSuch Nick Such

    I can vouch for the benefits of doing this, and can confirm that the cost is accurate. It could be done even cheaper, depending on the flexibility of the entrepreneurs who opt to do it (open to couchsurfing?), and the connections that local governments have to potential hosts in the area.

    Last January, I took 4 friends from Kentucky to live in San Francisco for a month. Two were my co-founders, the other a great mobile developer for a small software consultancy, and the fourth an engineer who had recently quit his job at a big company to try something new. We stayed with some friends from KY who had moved to SF a few years prior to work for startups. Not only did this save us a bunch of money (generous friends offered up their sizable living room floor in a SoMa condo in exchange for us cooking meals for a month), but having a local tour guide helped us find our way deeper into Silicon Valley’s startup scene than we would have on our own. Also, Steve Blank’s guide (http://steveblank.com/2011/02/22/a-visitors-guide-to-silicon-valley/) and a StartupDigest subscription connected us with some great events.

    The results:

    - got to chat with founders of a startup that had failed with a similar product approach that we had been pursuing (API for geodata). Their advice was spot-on.

    - spent 10 minutes chatting with Marissa Mayer (she was still a VP at Google then) about Google’s indoor maps (our product was in that space)

    - co-worked from the office of our friend’s (funded) startup for a day, getting to absorb some of their company culture and chat with the founders

    - got away from the little distractions of home for a month, enabling extra focus on our startup

    - opened our eyes to the fact that entrepreneurs in the Valley are regular human beings, just like us. Nobody had golden typing fingers, or smiles that could automatically close a $1.3M seed round.

    - learned that the Silicon Valley startup community is a very welcoming network, easy to break into and navigate (which yielded ideas on how to improve our own local network)

    In short: I concur, this would be taxpayer money well-spent.

  • http://bensufiani.de/ Ben Sufiani

    Here in Cologne, Germany we have a group a dedicated entrepreneurs that travel around to startup hotspots in Europe. You can’t wait for the government to give you anything. Just do it, like we do at STARTPLATZ (http://www.startplatz.de). Align yourself with people who share you vision.

  • Pingback: Ben Yoskovitz: 'This isn’t The Truman Show ... Startups leave. Get over it.’ | Insider Louisville

  • Chloe paver

    Hi Ben, Great advice for Start Ups. What is your view on Venture capitalism and affiliate programs for Startups?

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Not sure I understand what you mean by affiliate programs with VCs and startups. Care to explain further?

  • http://www.onlinetaxpros.com/ Greg Holbert

    Hello, Ben!

    This is a very eye-opening post about startups. I’m glad you’re telling the officials this every time they ask(which I’m sure they line up to ask you ^_~.) I hope the governments that want people to start new businesses actually put faith in their people to help stimulate the economy. You’re doing good work in what you do.

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Thanks Greg. I’m doing what I can :)

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Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at GoInstant (acq. by Salesforce).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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