At the very highest level, of course, the categories are probably the same: we've got to figure out how to get more customers, what kind of capital we're going to need, how to find great talent for what we do.
How can local leaders help startup communities grow? Can there even be one answer to that question? Des Moines, Iowa and New York City are both full of startup activity, but those places have different strengths.
The key is engaging entrepreneurs in two categories: people who are actually building high-growth businesses today, and people who have had some success and who are committed to growing the community. Once you have that core group of people, it doesn't matter where they are, if they're in Des Moines or in New York.
The scale may be different, but the challenge is the same: how do you bring entrepreneurs together and let them set the tone for what's possible? Investors have nothing to invest in if there aren't entrepreneurs. Universities can't partner unless there are entrepreneurs. The local government can do all it wants, but if you don't have inspired entrepreneurs, it doesn't matter what you do — you're not going to inspire growth.
Then you take it to the next level. Imagine all those startup communities connected across the country. How quickly can you get to the right people in Dallas, L.A., Nashville? That's happening now. That wasn't happening two, three, four years ago.
Since Startup America Partnership launched, it's shifted from connecting businesses with discounts on goods and services to connecting people with each other. Did something happen to inspire that change?
When we first started, we were focused on helping as many startups as directly as possible. So we partnered with some fantastic companies that pulled together some great resources, and the response from startups was strong. But as we started working with the startup community, a consistent theme kept coming up, which in retrospect was obvious: as valuable as providing some direct resources and tools to them was, the real asset was anything that got them better connected.
The aha! moment was realizing things like, entrepreneurs were feeling compelled to move to Silicon Valley, because everybody around you there is doing the same kind of stuff. The crucible of those relationships helps strengthen the company. That's probably true for all businesses-- there are rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, all kinds of small business groups. But a lot of those forums aren't the right ones if you're starting a high-growth company.
What's a piece of advice that you often give entrepreneurs?
There are probably two key things. The first is: invest as much time in strengthening your network as you do in product development and customer development. That's not necessarily going to networking events. It's more about being thoughtful about creating relationships early on. It's much more likely that I'm going to introduce you to someone who could be helpful to your company if I've known about your company for three months than if you reach out to me cold and say, I've got this startup.