I spent two fulfilling days in Kansas City at the 2nd annual ESHIP Summit hosted by the Kauffman Foundation. They led a group of 650+ people to discuss building and accelerating entrepreneurship in their communities. It was an exciting event. Each state had multiple leaders dubbed ‘ecosystem builders’ attend, and on the first day, 120 mayors even joined. But…there was one glaring hole - Silicon Valley representation. Next year, their attendance will be warmly welcomed.
We spent two days working on what Kauffman defined as their ESHIP Goals: 1) Inclusive Field, 2) Collaborative Culture, 3) Shared Vision, 4) Connected Networks, 5) Quantifying Methods, 6) Universal Support, and 7) Sustainable Work. The time was very well spent networking, collaborating, and devising new ways to grow our communities. We discussed how to support entrepreneurs from legal to finance. It wasn’t all about technology - as we know, entrepreneurship spans a much broader spectrum – like food truck businesses, ETSY designers, and new manufacturing. The program stressed inclusive entrepreneurship - let’s get everyone involved!
What really made the event was the people. Each person had a passion to be a part of the entrepreneurial process and were dedicated to make their towns and cities more productive places. In addition to Mayors and local government economic developers, there were many universities, corporations, entrepreneurs, small VCs, and other newly dubbed 'ecosystem builders'. Each state had their own breakout sessions to discuss problems and solutions. There was a great deal of focus on collaboration, sharing, and building tools amongst these stakeholders. (I suggested to a few to study how Singapore or the Baltics have built their innovation communities.) Positive energy and the desire to make a difference was felt throughout the entire event.
Those who have succeeded and failed in the Silicon Valley could have offered so much. What are the best practices and not-so-best practices to build and scale companies? How do you structure public-private partnerships, IP transfers from universities, and corporate involvement or investment? The list goes on… There was some Silicon Valley attendance (40 representatives including me) and Miriam Rivera a very successful legal professional who led many of Google's early deals. But what would be even more helpful are ecosystem builders who have done it not just once but twice and thrice in the Valley. What about getting Sequoia, KPCB, Khosla or others involved?
Some may say they have no financial interest. Unless we give them some investment opportunity, they won’t care. But I think they will and do care. If we can show empathy and throw fire on the flames of these ecosystems and their entrepreneurs, they will have the ability to build enduring businesses and grow their communities.
Doesn't the contrarian often get the best deal? There are and will be more investment opportunities in these places. Atlanta is growing quickly with two new Fintech unicorns - Kabbage and GreenSky. Alabama just had its first big exit when Target bought Shipt. In 2009, the acquisition of Omniture by Adobe in Utah ignited a new startup ecosystem so this may be just the start in ‘Bama. Research Triangle in North Carolina has pent up IP waiting to be unleashed. Boulder has a bustling scene with 12 active incubators. And there is more: AgTech in the Dakotas, MedTech in Vermont, and the Black Tech scene is on-fire from Miami to Cincinnati. Revolution is leading the way with a $150M fund in these market. Why can’t other VCs get involved with a bit of capital?
Maybe the returns won’t be there immediately. But, any venture capital firm, startup, and entrepreneur who chooses to observe and/or participate in these new, growing startup scenes will benefit from getting to know their potential customers in the rest of the country. Would it not have been a perfect time for an Uber or Airbnb to meet the mayors of many different cities especially now when the government has such an influence on these companies? Perhaps, gig economy workers could have met nonprofits like Rebecca Corbin who leads theNational Association for Community College Entrepreneurship who could have helped them structure ways to involve our 9M community college members. I’m just saying…there is certainly no downside for Silicon Valley to be more involved.
So, why did I go? I went because I’m searching for how I can connect my expertise to the rest of the country. It was simple: I just bought a ticket. So can you. I learned that the rest of the country wants to learn how to build great companies. I am going to help, and my question to you is, “Are you ready to help build successful entrepreneurial communities beyond Silicon Valley?”