Handprint is working on some amazing 3D printing and editing technology. We had plenty of applications for the competition – many of them very interesting – but Handprint really captured our imagination.
As winners of the competition, they’ll get to live in the house rent free for a year. I’ll pay for Google Fiber and the house; they cover their own expenses. There are no strings attached – I don’t get any equity and there are no downstream obligations for them.
Google Fiber was installed last week so when they move in they’ll immediately have access to 1 gigibit Internet.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m doing this as an experiment around Startup Communities. I’m fascinated about what is going on in Kansas City around Google Fiber and rather than observe, I decided to participate.
Thanks to Ben Barreth for inspiring this project with his Homes for Hackers discussion with me when we met atThinc Iowa. And thanks for Lesa Mitchell at Kauffman Foundation for all of her support. Both Ben and Lesa have done all the hard work on this project – I’m deeply appreciative of their help. Also, thanks to Scott Case of Startup America for helping judge the competition.
A huge congrats to the Handprint team which consists of Mike Demarais, Alexa Nguyen, Jack Franzen, and Derek Caneja. I look forward to getting to know you better over the next year. Welcome to the Fiberhood!
Last year Google ran a competition to determine which city would become the beachhead community for their revolutionary Google Fiber network. Although hundreds of cities applied, Kansas City was chosen as the winner and midway through the year the gigabit Google Fiber network became available to several neighborhoods in Kansas City. A gigabit connection is roughly 100 times faster than what the average U.S. consumer is currently receiving from their ISP. This incredible leap in data transmission has led many individuals within the KC startup scene to wonder how they can leverage Google Fiber within the startup ecosystem.
Enter Benjamin Barreth. Late last year after Google launched Fiber in KC, Ben had an idea to transform a typical suburban home into a rent free, co-working space for young startups. He cashed in his Roth IRA and purchased a small 3 bedroom home on State Line Road in what is being called the KC Startup Village. Ben named his creation Home for Hackers and last year at the Thinc Iowa conference spoke with Brad about his plans and the concept itself. After thinking on the idea for some time, Brad decided to hop on board and have a little fun. So this past Monday, he bought his own house in the KC Startup Village, partnered with the Kauffman Foundation, and is currently running a competition to select up to five individuals that will be allowed to live rent free for up to one year in what we’re calling Feld’s KC FiberHouse.
Sound intriguing? If so, here are the specifics.
You can apply online at Feld’s KC FiberHouse Competition. Applications will be accepted up until Friday March 22 (applicants must be at least 18 years of age). A panel of judges that includes Brad Feld, David Cohen of Techstars, Lesa Mitchell of the Kauffman Foundation, and Scott Case of Startup America Partnership will select up to five individuals to live in the home for 1 YEAR, RENT FREE!
If you’re an entrepreneur interested in FREE RENT, 1 GIGABIT CONNECTION SPEEDS and FREE RENT! Go to Feld’s KC FiberHouse Competition and apply now.
Guest post from Ben Barreth from Homes For Hackers, a 6 week old program to lure startups to Kansas City with 3 months of free living/working space and free Google Fiber.
Truth be told: I never wanted to actually do this idea. I wrote a blog post about it, thought someone might find it interesting, then promptly forgot about it. Three weeks later I found myself invited to a free lunch with Cameron Cushman & Nate Olson from the Kauffman Foundation.
Free lunch? I’m there.
They told me quite plainly, “We love your idea Ben. Now you just need to do it.”
That was a Monday. I launched the site Thursday morning.
It is quite possibly the ugliest site on the Internet since Craigslist. It’s so ugly, it drives right through the realm of being cool and out the other side to just being really ugly, all over again.
I told myself I didn’t want to put all this effort into something I had no idea would take off. As I’m learning more about startups, I realize now that I inadvertently created my minimum viable product. Not because I needed to get the product to market quickly, or get feedback from real life users early, or to fail fast. But simply because I’m lazy.
Here’s the idea: What if 10 generous Kansas City homeowners that have Google Fiber would let startups live with them, rent-free, for 3 months at a time? We could seed 40 new startups into KC in a single year.
People really started rallying behind this idea. Someone posted it on Hacker News. I was interviewed by ArsTechnica and a bunch of small business publications. About 20 startups and 4 homeowners registered in the first 24 hours. I felt overwhelmed, fearful and euphoric all at the same time.
None of the homeowners in my program were getting fiber until summer 2013. The startups wanted fiber and I didn’t have it. I truly believed in the potential of the program. I had received so much encouragement and support that I knew the idea contained true merit, not just my own fantasies of greatness.
On Wednesday, September 19th, I looked up from the computer and said to my wife: “You know, we could just buy a house… right in Hanover Heights where the fiber is coming first.” We both laughed (hard). What a ridiculous idea.
Four days later we put down an offer on 4428 State Line Road.
Crazed again by euphoria, it was a week later when I found I needed a 20% down payment (instead of only 10), because of the investment loan. So what does any entrepreneur do in a tight place with a cause they believe in? They calculate the risk… then they double down. I took another crazy leap of faith and liquidated a retirement account to fund the down payment.
I keep asking myself: How did I even get here? All I did was write a stinking blog post! People keep asking me: “Why are you doing this?” and I just stare dumbly. Then tonight I happened to read this:
“… entrepreneurial leaders follow a ‘give before you get’ philosophy: They have no idea what they are going to get out of providing this leadership, but they expect it will be more than they invest. In some cases, the results are tangible and immediate; in other cases the results are vague and take a long time to materialize. Regardless, the short-term emotional satisfaction of helping to mobilize, grow, and evolve a startup community is substantial.” Startup Communities by Brad Feld, pg 33.
Thanks Brad, that really helps. Seriously.
In fact, I wish I had read all that before staring dumbly at a bunch of people this week at Thinc Iowa.
You know what the best thing is? The startup community in Hanover Heights is already way ahead of my Homes for Hackers idea. I haven’t even closed on the house yet and startups like Local Ruckus, Leap2, FormZapper and EyeVerify have already moved their operations into this new KC Startup Village of Hanover Heights. CHWC is looking to buy condemned homes in the area to fix them up specifically for use by startups. The Compute Midwest Hackathon is coming to the Google Fiber Space just 1 block away. Red Nova Labs continues to have great startup Meetups across the street from the neighborhood.
I can truly rest easy knowing that if Homes for Hackers died off tomorrow, this new fledgling KC Startup Village will continue to grow exponentially. My greater satisfaction comes from playing my small role in bringing this startup community to life.
Paying it forward never felt so good.
Gulp. I’ve finally come up for air after finishing Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. Amy and I have spent every spare moment of the last month work on this and it’s nice to have it shipped. In the mean time, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews, talks, and thinking about Startup Communities. Predictably, a large number of big companies, city, and state governments are trying to figure out how to help. and are asking a lot of questions.
Following is an example of the type of questions I’m on the receiving end of. They are important questions, but as I hope you’ll see from the answers are often either ambiguous or slightly off the mark in terms of what matters. I’ll start trying to blog more of my responses here, especially those that help craft better focus and better questions, like my first answer below to the question “How can a city create an environment where startups thrive and who should take the initiative?”
1. You talk about “The Boulder Thesis” on how to build a supportive entrepreneurial community. How can a city create an environment where startups thrive and who should take the initiative? The first tenant of the Boulder Thesis is that the entrepreneurs have to be leaders and everyone else is a feeder. Both are important, just different. So in that context, “the city” is a feeder. The fundamental challenge is anthropomorphizing things like “a city”. It’s not the city that does things, is people “in the city” that do things. This includes for profit entities (big companies), individuals (citizens of the city) and local government. I think it’s really important to talk about these entities specifically, and then attribute behaviors and specific actions to the individuals involved. For example, in city government, you’ve got multiple participants such as a mayor, city council, the hierarchy of city government, individual economic development people, and specific staff members that impact different aspects of the city. Which specifically are you focused on? While the answer can be “each of them”, recognize that you are now focusing on a wide variety of different people with different motivations.
I realize this is a non-answer – but it’s a reaction to what I believe is a non-question. I’m not trying to be difficult – rather, I’m looking for you to be more precise when you say “how can a city create an environment.” Who specifically are you referring to?
The specific answer follows: For the first part: How can a city create an environment where startups thrive” is that a city can’t and should not, but individuals within the city can. And, if you are referring to city government, the most important thing members of city government can do is focus on policies and initiatives that are friendly to startups, remove administrative barriers, and shine a bright light on the great things going on in the startup community. For the second part, ” who should take the initiative?” I refer you back to the first principle of the Boulder Thesis – the leaders must be entrepreneurs.
2. What aspect of a city would you say is most crucial for fostering a healthy entrepreneurial environment? I focus a lot of entrepreneurial density. Most startup communities are concentrated in small geographic areas, even in very large cities. If you look at New York, there’s a huge concentration of startup activity around Union Square. If you look at Boston, you’ll see it in Kendall Square (in Cambridge) and in the Innovation District and Fort Point Channel. In Boulder it’s the 5 by 10 blocks that make up downtown Boulder centered around the Pearl Street mall. These are “startup neighborhoods” that roll up into a startup community. This concentration of entrepreneurial activity – or entrepreneurial density – is critical.
3. What role does the ICT infrastructure (IT infrastructure) of a city play? To date, I’m not aware of any that is actually critical. Over the years efforts like public WiFi and other networking infrastructure have been tried and promoted; to date none appear to be very important. Experiments like Google Fiber in Kansas City are interesting although one could argue that this is a private company experiment to understand what the broader community, not just the startup community, will do with a technological infrastructure.
4. As a venture capitalist looking for possible investments, is the location of the startup important? And if so, why? The conventional wisdom and historical view was that it was. I’ve never had that view and since I started investing in 1994 (after being an entrepreneur) I’ve paid little attention to the geographic location of a company. Today I strongly believe that you can create an amazing and important company in many different places around the world. While geography impacts aspects of company creation, I think it’s one of the least important drivers of the long term success of a startup.