How to make a homemade startup ecosystem

In the past few months, I’ve been to a couple retreats that gather startup community leaders and entrepreneurs together from around the country (I wrote about one here). At each of them, we talk about the communities we come from; in the East Coast, West Coast, Pacific Northwest, The South, sometimes Canada. Each person shares about the change they see in their community, linked to the startup fever that’s sweeping the globe.

When I speak about Fargo, there seem to be varying levels of legitimacy. For instance, as soon as I mention that we have a coworking space, people nod knowingly and say “Yep, ok.” It’s like next-level startup scene; all the major cities have a coworking space, too. Among other things.

What emerged from all these conversations seems to me like a package-deal startup ecosystem, that is being grown and implemented in each of these cities. Sure that package looks different depending on the culture and location of the community, but at a base level there seem to be some standards they all share in common.

I did my best to share those with you here, in a recipe format. For more expert insight on startup communities, read Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities: Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in your city.”

How to make a homemade startup ecosystem

Ingredients:

  1. Entrepreneurs
  2. Feeders
  3. Venture capitalists/angel funds
  4. Regular, high-quality events.
  5. An accelerator program
  6. Coworking space(s)

Directions:

So, you want to kickstart a startup community in your city? Here’s a fast-track guide to laying some groundwork.

1. Assess

TEDxFargo

First, assess your community. Get to know the entrepreneurs. Get to know the feeders – the big companies, the government agencies (like the local Economic Development programs), the local universities, etc. Get dinner with these people. As you meet everyone, pay attention to the ways they can connect. Introduce people to each other. Be a catalyst.

Does your community have a venture capital firm? This is great ingredient to healthy startup communities – although it’s arguably not necessary. If you don’t have one, start talking to any investors in town and propose the idea. Research and find the closest sources for venture capital. If you do have one, get them connected as well.

*Optional: set up an angel fund. Angel investors can do a lot for entrepreneurs, and are a great source of capital for them. Again, if you don’t have an active angel fund in your community, find ones nearby. Get to know the angels of your community.

2. Stir in Events

1MC Reunion

Photo by Nick Friesen

Now you’ve identified your key players – time to start cooking. Take the entrepreneurs, the feeders, and the capital, and mix them together, stirring thoroughly.

As you stir, mix in the Events. Can be gradual, or all at once. Some of the best spices of events we’ve experienced in the Fargo recipe, and across the country, are here:

1 Million Cups: Started by the Kauffman Foundation, this event gets the community together over free cups of coffee. It’s a platform where local entrepreneurs share what they are doing and how the community can help. Check this out to get a full run down of how it works.

StartupWeekend: Brought to you by UP Global (now a part of TechStars) this event is radically changing communities around the world. In short, it’s a weekend long competition where attendees pitch ideas, and build the early stages of a startup with their team. Read about Startup Weekend Fargo, here.

TEDx: TEDx is a way to bring the power of TED to your community. It brings in artists, musicians, food, entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, students, and people from everywhere in the city and beyond. It can truly transform a city and attract guests from around the country/world. Read more about it here.

Startup Drinks: This is something we do in Fargo and see in various communities. It’s an agenda free evening to hang out and meet people. We have music, free food, and a cash/credit bar.

*Recommended: Set up a blog/newsletter that keeps everyone informed of these happenings. This is what Startup Digest does, although it can also be your own design.

Stir until smooth. As little chunks as possible.

3. Fund

Now, you need to get things moving. Tap into accelerator programs at nearby universities, and learn about the state programs allocated for entrepreneurs. Here’s a list of the top startup accelerator programs of 2015, compiled by Forbes.

4. Place-making.

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Don’t stop stirring. In a separate bowl, get the coworking space going. Find a space to rent that is local and at the heart of downtown (that’s crucial).

Our advice from Fargo is don’t worry about making it perfect: get the MVP out. Ask for donations, ask for furniture, ask for sponsors. Or, if there is a local coworking industry in the works (like CoCo or Galvanize) get them to open a space. Read more about how we view coworking as a “student union” for a city, here.

Other additional ingredients: Start giving cool names to downtown districts so that people feel a sense of belonging. Names add a TON. We did this with an area now called the Cathedral District.

5. Keep it going.

Now you’ve started, just keep stirring. The events have to keep going, and people have to keep meeting each other. The rewards will come as individuals in the community begin to cook up communities of their own – here in Fargo we’ve seen it happen. People start creating their own niche meet-ups. As people move to your city, make sure to get them mixed in right away as well. Show it off. As it continues to grow, start telling others around the country and world about what your city has to offer. Welcome to the startup world.

An editorial piece by Marisa Jackels.

Marisa Jackels