One of my favourite business / economic development books is ‘Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City‘ by Brad Feld (Co-Founder of TechStars, VC & Managing Director of Foundry Group based in Boulder, Colorado).
In it, he compares the old, industrial era way of working under a hierarchy to the modern, information age where early stage entrepreneurship flourishes without one. He says if the hierarchy tries to drive the startup community it essentially stifles it. Instead of a hierarchy, many aspects of what we do today are working as a network.
When Brad talks about his ‘Boulder Thesis’ comprising 4 parts which he says are ‘essential to a sustainable, vibrant startup community’, I believe we already have a lot of this in Newcastle & the wider North East of England.
Watch the video and read my comments below to see if you feel the same….
- ‘The community must be led by entrepreneurs’ – The entrepreneurs are the leaders whilst the Government, Universities, VC’s, lawyers, etc are the feeders. The latter are important but they can’t and shouldn’t be the leaders determining how the community will grow and evolve. This is the role of the entrepreneurs who are anyone that is being creative, inventing and making things happen. I particularly like this idea and am excited by the fact that there are many different people doing interesting and exiting things in the North East right now simply because they want to, not because it’s their job or they are getting paid to do it. The opposite is when events and activities are controlled and dictated by a select few, which then has a negative impact on the wider community as it doesn’t allow people to experiment, learn and grow together. As Brad says at the very end of the video, ‘It’s the network chaos of entrepreneurs doing what entrepreneurs do to create things – that force to build something bigger than themselves and their company which is so incredibly powerful’.
- ‘Entrepreneurs have to take a very long-term view’ – It may take 20yrs+ before the startup community benefits from the work that they do. (According to this Tech North article we’re about 14yrs into the journey). Over time there ‘will be some extraordinary successes but also some really huge failures’. Even when someone is extremely successful they should still remain part of that community. Likewise, when someone is a failure, don’t cast them out of the community. Help them dust themselves off and welcome them back into the fold, reinforcing the idea that it’s ok to fail – it’s just part of the process. This is one thing that I think we could do better at in the North East. There are some, but at present I don’t see enough successful entrepreneurs reinvesting their own wealth into new startups and sharing their expertise, nor big businesses using them as suppliers, partners and innovation hubs.
- ‘You have to have a philosophy of inclusiveness’ – It’s not just other entrepreneurs but anyone who is interested in being part of the startup ecosystem should be ‘allowed in’ without any special handshakes, having the right credentials or ‘being in with the in crowd’. If everyone contributes energy to the startup community, it’ll get bigger and grow faster, be more successful and more fun. From my experience, the developers in the North East in particular are extremely welcoming and supportive of each other, always willing to help each other out and share knowledge and expertise. There are some natural leaders amongst them but it’s not forced and there is no set agenda other than doing things for the greater good of the community, having fun and growing as an individual. Regular collaboration & a sense of community are real strengths of the North East tech & digital sector.
- ‘You have to have activities and events that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack’ – These need to be content rich and full of useful content rather than simply a networking event or award dinner. The weekly developer meetups, monthly digital showcases & educational events hosted by the ‘Tech For Life‘ team at the Campus North co-working & event space in Newcastle have been a major boost to the local startup community & my own 5-day ‘Newcastle Startup Week‘ festival also helps engage the wider business community.
Newcastle and the wider North East is a great place to start or grow a business, especially a tech / digital / creative one but the work is never done & we mustn’t get complacent or take things for granted. It’s important to take regular (probably annual) & honest reviews of where we are, how far we’ve come & where things can be improved but we’re in good shape & there’s nowhere I’d rather be!