Today’s guest post is by Matt Gantz, a senior at Concordia College’s Offutt School of Business. Matt recently returned from travel in India, where he participated in the Offutt School’s international business program.
Approximately 20 years ago, India removed its economic barriers and became a budding international market contender. Since then, culturally-applied negative connotations of entrepreneur have begun dissipating and making way for a much more appropriate undertone, even amid the many large technology and international help centers established by brand name conglomerates. This change has been gradual, but Bangalore, and perhaps the entirety of India, now serves as a prime example of a startup community spurred by market activities enacted by independent individuals.
In the fall of 2013, I spent four months avoiding the rapidly declining temperatures of Fargo-Moorhead by studying social entrepreneurship in Bangalore. Although affected by my biases of studies, living situations, and background, I was able to elucidate a handful of associations between the unique entrepreneurial scenes of Bangalore and Fargo.
After only two weeks of interaction in Bangalore, it became clear that I was becoming a part of an intricate system. Armed with Brad Feld’s Startup Communities and the mentorship of Fargo native Greg Tehven, I had to plot the ecological map of relationships among people I had met. Somewhat unsurprisingly, most were connected in some way – past coworkers, current partners, and, in some cases, even family members.
Interconnectivity is high in Fargo, though I’ve never mapped the system. I frequently see social media posts by big players in the community about projects they’ve enacted with common partners. These are the leaders and initiators of a growing startup scene. As the whole community transitions into startup maturity, I expect this to become an even larger net of people with even more varied connections among one another.
The founder of a microfinance firm, an operation cozily housed in an apartment complex on the south end of Bangalore, once told me there are so many problems in India that it is simple to create a startup that creates an impact. Disease, contaminated water, poverty, a very obvious lack of canine neutering (Dogs. Everywhere). These issues, combined with oftentimes corrupt government schemes, almost necessitate intense levels of creativity and innovation among individuals. Anything they can do in this sometimes bleak scenario can help. Rang De, the aforementioned microfinance firm, focuses on providing small loans to those without the funds to establish their independent professions. Rainwater Concepts builds innovative water conservation devices to assist rural irrigation techniques.
Due to its formative status, focuses in Fargo are less centralized on base-level social needs and more so on building community through activities and events. And while I will stop short of claiming it is easy to create startups in Fargo (our people work hard to make the community what it is), I will put forth the assertion that the barriers are reduced to a level at which truly passionate people can create opportunities that have positive effects on the community (see: Startup Weekends, MELD Workshop, Alley Fair, to name a few). These opportunities in tandem with high interconnectivity will add many events and projects to Fargo’s already-growing list. As Fargo cultivates its entrepreneurial spirit, I am excited to witness the diversification of these new opportunities and entities that might someday be predominantly socially-oriented.
As I traversed the entrepreneurial landscape of Bangalore, it became increasingly obvious that I was not only welcomed as an outsider, but at times was even considered a part of the legitimate startup community. Invitations to events, Bangalore startup drinks, and even solicitations for startups made me feel like I was an actual contributor to the culture.
As a student of the Fargo-Moorhead region, I have experienced similar sentiments. The burgeoning startup community led by its committed members is beginning to provide a constant stream of community opportunities for all (the most blatant recent example being the introduction of Dinnerties into the Fargo community). Based on Bangalore experiences and Fargo’s current state, I expect openness and acceptance of newcomers to be a major focus for this new startup community to continue its positive trajectory.
So easily witnessing the connections between these starkly differing cultures was fascinating experience. If Fargo is following even a moderately similar track as Bangalore, the near-future developments for the entire community look promising. I am excited to see what comes next in this community, and I am excited to be a part of its growth and development