I recently received an email from Chris Heivly and Dave Neal who recently spent an hour talking about the Boulder Thesis and what it means for them in RTP/Triangle/Raleigh-Durham. I’ve gotten to know Chris and Dave through a few trips in the past to Durham along with their work at Triangle StartUp Factory, the accelerator they run in Durham. They offered an example of how a feeder – the Durham Chamber of Commerce – has effectively engaged and supported the Durham startup community. The example follows:
When you talk about the role of governments, institutions, and associations as feeders I felt like I wanted some more examples. We have a very unique Chamber of Commerce here in Durham and I think they serve as a good example.
When I first started talking to you and David Cohen in the fall of 2009 about an accelerator here in Durham – you planted the entrepreneur-led, organic/network thesis in my head. I was on a 275 person in a year tour of the area testing the accelerator thesis and one of those meetings was with the head of the Durham Chamber, Casey Steinbacher and a young associate, Adam Klein. They asked to get involved and I pushed hard on the “you can’t control this – you need to support this” thesis. We gave them a task – raise awareness. They bought it big time. They reached out to the entrepreneurial community for thoughts, advice, help and then took off. If anyone would have told me that I would be working with a Chamber of Commerce I would have told them they were crazy. They are true partners in our ecosystem today.
To date, they have spearheaded two contributing efforts that have really helped support & grow the region:
- The first was the Durham Stampede, an application based program which offered 60 days of free space in a cool downtown location for 10-15 startup (mostly around software tech). I and others supported their effort by being one of about 8-10 experienced entrepreneurs who came in to share our best practices and get these founders networked. The goal – simple – raise awareness of the scene in Durham. They have operated 3 programs in the past 18 months.
- Their 2nd offering was called the SMOffice - the world’s smallest office. An application based offering that provided free office space (80 sq feet) in the corner of the coffee shop that is the equivalent of “Buck’s” in Durham. The winning team got the space for 6 months as well as a free condo. 3 sisters from Illinois with Durham roots were selected (they are building an Etsy for just NC based artisans).
Total costs run less than $5k per Stampede session and most everything was donated for the SMOffice. I find these efforts to be totally supportive of the greater good and consistent with their strengths.
A part of the Boulder Thesis, which I explain in depth in Startup Communities, is that startup communities have to be led by entrepreneurs. Everyone else is a feeder into the startup community. Both leaders and feeders are important – they are just different.
Service providers, such as law firms, are feeders. Law firms with extensive experience working with startups can have a huge positive impact of a startup community. We have several in Boulder – one of the most impactful has been Cooley, especially Mike Platt and his team.
This morning Cooley announced that it is entering the Los Angeles startup community in a big way. Mark Suster explains the story, and the reason it’s such an important move, on his blog in a post titled Here are More Signs that LA Tech is Moving to the Next Level.
It’s a great example of how a professional services firm can play a key role as a feeder into a startup community.
Boulder was recently named as America’s Most Creative City based on Richard Florida’s Creative Class index. That’s nice and flattering and the list is fascinating, but not that surprising. The top 10 cities are Boulder, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, San Diego, Ann Arbor, Corvallis, Durham, Washington DC, and Trenton.
Now, let’s look at America’s Most Economically Vibrant College Towns, also based on Richard Florida’s research. The top 10 are Boulder, Ann Arbor, San Jose, Raleigh, Boston, San Francisco, Austin, Trenton, Minneapolis, Washington DC.
While there are a few differences between these two lists, the heavy overlap is powerful and underscores one of the most important inputs of a university into a creative city, that of constantly getting fresh blood in the system.
There is a bi-directional link here – a university attracts young, smart, creative people. If the community is a creative one, these young, smart, creative people will stay and do interesting, creative, and entrepreneurial things. If the community isn’t creative, even if the university is fantastic, the young, smart, creative people will move somewhere else. These creative people are at the core of continual renewal in a startup community.
In my experience with many universities, they don’t get this and view themselves as a leader, rather than a feeder, into the startup community. By being an attractor of young, smart, creative people into a community and then a feeder of them into the startup community, a university can have incredible impact long term on a startup community.
It’s easy to see that dynamic in some of the cities listed above.
This week is Ohio week on Startup Communities. Yesterday we talked about Cleveland, today we are talking about Cincinnati. David Knox, the co-founder of The Brandery and Chief Marketing Officer of Rockfish Interactive weighs in with his thoughts on Cincinnati’s use of one of its natural resources – the “brand” – in the development of its startup community. In addition to talking about a key natural resource of the community, he also describes how the Cincinnati startup community is leveraging feeders such as the business community and the local university.
Dave starts off with a quote from Dave McClure, which while I don’t agree with, is nicely provocative: “And to be honest, design and marketing aren’t just EQUALLY important as engineering… designers, product managers & [technical, analytical] marketers are usually WAY MORE IMPORTANT than coders.” – Dave McClure of 500 Startups
In the business world, Cincinnati is best known as a “Brand Town”. As the global headquarters for Procter & Gamble, Brand Management was literally invented in Cincinnati, a town that is also home to fellow Fortune 100 companies Kroger and Macy’s. In fact, 9 Fortune 500 companies call Cincinnati home, resulting in the second highest per capita number of Fortune 500 headquarters in the U.S.
This concentration of major companies has created a business ecosystem that revolves design and marketing. Cincinnati is filled with graphic designers, market researchers, advertising agencies and analytical marketers who have helped the region emerge as a global hub for branding and design.
Over the last few years, start-ups in Cincinnati have begun to recognize that this expertise in consumer marketing is one of the region’s most valuable natural resources. Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community is rallying around this natural resource, applying the region’s strength in design and marketing to bring their startup brands to life.
At the center of this movement is The Brandery (applications for the 2012 program are open), which is showing the power of startup accelerators to catalyze a community around a natural resource. Before The Brandery was launched in 2010, Cincinnati’s startup community was struggling to find common ground. The region had seen success in life sciences with startups such as AssureRX, as well some traction in information technology and advanced materials. But these industries did not create a critical mass of entrepreneurial density in the startup community.
Enter The Brandery, which in fewer than 2 years has started to gain national attention for Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community by focusing on Consumer Marketing, the natural resource of the region. The result of this focus is that The Brandery has been ranked as one of the Top 10 Startup Accelerators in the US, invited to be a charter member of the Global Accelerator Network, and attracted over a dozen new startups to the region.
The Brandery has achieved this success by placing entrepreneurs as the leaders, yet leveraging feeders to support the growth. The most important of these feeders have been the business community and local universities, both of which have played a significant role in supporting The Brandery:
Business Community as a Feeder: The thematic focus of The Brandery on Consumer Marketing is largely due to the region’s concentration of talent in this area. Cincinnati is not a town that is bursting with engineers, but it does have one of the most remarkable pools of designers and marketers in the country (if not the world). Startups at The Brandery are able to tap into this talent pool for world-class mentorship, as well as potential hires. Additionally, the startups are able to leverage mentors from companies such as Google, Get Satisfaction, and Facebook that regularly visit Cincinnati to call on marketers at P&G and Kroger. Additionally, startups at The Brandery also benefit from unique service providers such as marketing and design agencies like LPK, Landor, Rockfish, Possible Worldwide and Empower that donate their services to startups in the program. And finally, startups are able to leverage the business community of Cincinnati as early customers, gaining access to significant marketing dollars from brands in CPG, Food and Beverage, and Retail.
Local Universities as a Feeder: According to Entrepreneur Magazine, the Cincinnati region is home to three of the top 25 schools for undergraduate education in entrepreneurship (Miami University, Xavier University and University of Dayton). Additionally, the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) is consistently ranked in the top tier of international design schools. As a result, Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community has a tremendous feeder for startup talent from the local universities.
Through programs such as The Brandery, Cincinnati is creating an entrepreneurial community that is built around brands and the region’s natural resource of design and marketing.