Politicians, investors and professors are extremely important elements of a thriving startup ecosystem. But, at the end of the day, every startup hub needs to be led by entrepreneurs.
That’s the analysis of Boulder venture capitalist Brad Feld who was in Seattle Tuesday speaking at an event promoting his new book: Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.
Feld, an investor in Seattle startups BigDoor, SEOMoz and Cheezburger, laid out the four key principles of what it takes to create a durable and vibrant startup hub.
In Feld’s view, dubbed his “Boulder Thesis,” communities are separated into two categories: “Leaders and Feeders.”
The “leaders” are the entrepreneurs, while the “feeders” are everyone else (accountants, lawyers, angels, politicians, VCs, etc.).
“It is not that you can’t have leadership roles being played by feeders,” he says. “However, in the absence of a critical mass of entrepreneurial leaders, you will not make progress in a startup community. And you see this over and over and over again. It is not that everyone in the startup community has to be a startup leader, it is just enough critical mass.”
In Boulder, he said there are about a dozen entrepreneurs who’ve played leadership roles in the past 20 years. And that leads to Feld’s second major point: It takes a generational view to drive change.
“You have to be committed to the place you are, not for the next two or three or four years, but for the next 20 years,” he said.
“You need to take this deep, inclusive philosophy,” he said. “And it is inclusive at any level.” That could include an aspiring entrepreneur who just moved into the city or an entrepreneur who is on her fourth or fifth startup.
“There is no president of the startup community,” notes Feld. “It’s a network, it’s not a hierarchy.”
As his fourth point, Feld notes that a startup community must have a myriad of events that play to the interests of a wide-range of entrepreneurs.
“Any one of these events may seem trivial by itself, but the combination of all of them happening continually over a long period of time and being inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in them and being led by entrepreneurs is what empowers,” he says.
Here are some of the other highlights from Feld’s talk:
On creating startup hubs: ”I believe that every city in the world can actually sustain a startup community. If you think about every city, every city was in fact at one point a startup, somebody started to plant themselves there and start a city. So, the fundamental nature and texture of startups is something that we are all incredibly used to as a society.”
On angel investors: “Any angel investors who are serious, know that they are going to have a lot of zeroes along the way…. I can’t tell you the number of angel investors who believe their job is to torture the entrepreneur or to extract as much value as possible out of the angel investment.”
On welcoming startup folks to your community: “When someone shows up in Seattle, don’t just let them show up. Embrace them.”
On the role of universities in creating startup hubs: “The biggest most useful role of a university is fresh meat. And universities hate to hear that…. But every year, a whole bunch of of new, young smart people come to town to be Freshman, and a whole bunch not-as-young but still relatively new people exit into the community as either entrepreneurs or employees or whatever. That cycle is very powerful, especially if you have a very strong university in the city.”
Here’s the full video of the chat, shot by Bootstrapper Studios: