Guest Commentary: Last week, Forbes published its annual Midas List, ranking the top 100 tech investors. While these types of lists make great fodder for instapaper, I’ve found drawing substantive conclusions from them to be tenuous. Still, sometimes I’m a sucker for the cognitive shortcuts that rankings provide. In perusing this list, I was mostly interested to find only one local investor made the cut (Matt McIlwain from Madrona Venture Group).
That compared with 61 in the Bay Area. I expected these rankings to reflect the Valley’s dominance, but I was surprised by the magnitude.
Clearly the sheer size of Silicon Valley’s venture ecosystem predisposes the Bay Area to prominence in startup rankings like this where absolute metrics are used. The common refrain of Seattleites is that a more relative approach like ‘value created per capita’ would paint a stronger picture and more accurate of the Seattle startup scene relative to its peers.
We could debate the merits of different methodologies ad nauseum, but I believe such arguments are missing the point. I believe in this case, perception is reality.
And this is the problem. Seattle is not portrayed as a powerful startup community in the national media.
Entrepreneurship is today’s media fascination and Seattle is not part of the story. From the glamour of success depicted in The Social Network to the purported economic panacea of Startup America, it seems American citizens and journalists alike can’t get enough.
Hopefully, this deluge of media attention encourages the next generation of entrepreneurs to found industry-defining companies. But my concern is that they won’t be doing that here.
Does a talented engineer from Wyoming think Seattle is the right place to relocate to raise capital after looking at something like the Midas List? Probably not. Some local entrepreneurs may be having similar trepidations. I know several who have relocated to the Bay Area seeking greener ($) pastures. Again, perception is reality and our ecosystem suffers.
So how do we solve this problem?
Here’s one idea: we need a game-changing consumer product. The explosive growth of companies like Facebook, Zynga, etc. has captured the fancy of the average consumer and thus the media.
Unfortunately, Seattle has been unable to cultivate any of the top tier players in this space and we have thus been somewhat marginalized as a startup destination nationally.
I know there are a number of strong, growing consumer startups in town, but most of our recent large exits have been from decidedly less sexy spaces. I believe that one such breakthrough success could revitalize the community, attracting new entrepreneurs, more capital, and economic growth.
Many local entrepreneurs (myself included) are hard at work too capitalize on the boundless opportunities of the social web to make this happen. As a region that has long been defined by the corporate headquarters it has hosted, from Boeing to Microsoft to Starbucks to Amazon, we are perceived as pioneering and it is up to all of us to ensure that remains reality.
Brewster Stanislaw is CEO and Co-Founder of a Seattle-based consumer startup currently in stealth. You can contact him here.
[Previously on GeekWire: Seattle teens behind “The Grim Tweeper app dream of making it big … in Silicon Valley]