Leaders from the Seattle technology community gathered in the basement of TechStars on Tuesday night to discuss ways to strengthen the startup ecosystem and make it easier for entrepreneurs to build their companies here. Organized by Startup Weekend’s Jennifer Cabala, the brainstorming session was one of the first steps in an effort backed by the Kauffman Foundation to turn people into “job creators, not job takers.”
The 7-city project, known as the Startup Foundation, is just taking root. And Seattle is one of the test beds for the concept, which could be expanded elsewhere if it meets with success.
Last night’s brain dump certainly was a topic close to GeekWire’s heart, since we’re of the belief that an independent Seattle-based news source is an important ingredient in making the community a stronger place to live, work and play.
Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, non-profits and representatives from Microsoft pitched various concepts which they felt would strengthen the community, attaching their ideas on Post-it Notes on the wall under topics such as brain drain, mentors and events.
It was a good discussion, and below you’ll find some of the ideas that folks floated in their 2-minute pitches. But, in the spirit of keeping the conversation going, we’d like to ask you this question: How do we make the Seattle startup ecosystem stronger?
Red Russak of Lean Startup on retrofitting the community space in the basement of TechStars: “A lot of magic happens down here, and we want to make it more of a magical space visually, audio-wise, etc. So, I am on a path right now to finding ways to fund raise for this space by having startups and organizations put in some level of funding and get recognition as well.” (Note: Startup Foundation has already committed to match $5,000 in donations for renovating the space).
Red Russak on promoting Seattle: “You ever been to a place that you’ve never been before, and that nice guy walks up to you and says: ‘Here’s a pamphlet to find out more.’ Well, I want to do that with the Seattle startup scene. I want everybody, if they can, to just carry 10 little Startup Foundation cards. If you meet someone who is new to Seattle … hand them a card that will have resources with links to Web sites like Seattle Tech Calendar, as well as different resources in Seattle.”
Franck Nouyrigat of Startup Weekend on education: “The proposal is to teach people how to program who have never programmed. The reason is that all of the Startup Weekends we’ve been organizing, so many times I’ve seen business people struggling to find a technical co-founder to do something very basic.”
Bob Crimmins of Moon Tango and Poker 2.0 proposed “Project Snowshoe:” ”I think in Seattle we’d do well to have a bit more cross pollination, know what is going on in other regions and have other regions know more about what is going on here. So, whatever the event is that you have, I’d like to have everybody think about how we take that idea on a roadtrip. And take it to Boston or New York or the Valley or wherever, and have it become known as that event that comes from Seattle…. I call it Project Snowshoe. We want to make tracks, and leave tracks to the other regions so they know how to find us, both to attract talent and to attract capital.” (Note: Crimmins says that he is taking the Poker 2.0 event on the road and is working with Startup Foundation to figure out how to do that).
John Sechrest on sparking angel capital: He proposed a startup bootcamp and angel conference where the winning team could take home $200,000 in startup capital. “I’d like to see us map the ecosystem and … find a way to increase the number of angels that are investing in startups early. One of the ways to do that is to give them a chance to start small, and the Oregon Angel Conference is doing that as a mechanism.”
Marcelo Calbucci of Seattle 2.0 on events: “I want Seattle to have events that are really big. I am kind of tired of all of the meetups, and the things here and there. We have none of the events where we attract outside people to come here and get to know us as a tech city or a startup city.”
Ludo Ulrich of Microsoft Bizspark on events: “Please consolidate the number of events. From a big corporation standpoint, it is great to have something clear and with a clear outcome. Follow the example of Startup Weekend. It is … easy to understand…. It is easy to explain, there are companies coming out of the weekend. If it is all about networking and schmoozing and all of that, that’s great, but it is harder for us to support stuff like that. So, let’s make it easy.”
Ludo Ulrich on supporting homegrown technologies: “I am proud of Seattle and I want to put Seattle on the map….I’d like to see more companies betting on Microsoft technologies and … be proud of homemade, locally made technologies…. Let’s be proud of the success stories in Seattle, and whether it is Microsoft or Amazon, I don’t really care. But let’s be proud of that because there are a lot of opportunities that can be created out of that. New York doesn’t have that. Austin doesn’t have that. Paris doesn’t have that.”
Jennifer Cabala of Startup Weekend on startup pitch events: “Having an opportunity for people to really get out there and pitch their ideas, and get that kind of feedback will help those startups so much more because it will improve their pitches and they won’t spend a lot of time working on something that has such obvious holes. So, when they get up to pitch investors, they have a much better chance of succeeding. I’d love to work on a pitch event that is more frequent — perhaps monthly — that has a couple of judges and maybe three or five startup pitches so it is a more manageable amount.”
Marc Nager of Startup Weekend on mentoring: “One of the biggest competitive advantages we have in Seattle is the number of really smart, accomplished people who are willing to help and reach out…. I would like to propose an initiative that really solves the problem of mentoring. We have a lot of platforms out there online, and some other mentor ‘dating’ type events. But I’d like to help mentors and mentorees learn how build that relationship and do it more structured in an intentional way, so that mentors can be very, very specific about how they are spending their time and know how to set expectations for the mentorees. And the mentorees know how to utilize the time and get as much valuable as possible out of the mentors.”