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:
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…