How to Grow the Startup Ecosystem in Your City

Are you looking to help grow the startup community or ecosystem in your city? There are three key things that you can do to help bring more startups to your city.


(Watch this Video on YouTube)

Want to read instead of watch? Here’s a rough script I used for this video.

I live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and one of my favorite things about this city is that everyone in the business community wants to help the city grow and help the next generation of business leaders start their own businesses or succeed in their careers. There’s a great culture of volunteerism and generosity that you don’t always see in a city. The local chamber of commerce, the city itself, the local development foundation and the local entrepreneurship center all work in concert to help Sioux Falls attract more people to the community, attract jobs and develop local businesses. I personally volunteer by serving on the board of the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, by leading a local community group of entrepreneurs and by helping organize our weekly 1 Million Cups networking event. Because of these rather public and visible volunteer roles that I have, a lot of people who will ask how they can get involved in helping grow the startup community in Sioux Falls and what way they might be able to help.

The natural answer that you would expect to receive when asking “How can I help?” is to serve on a board or a committee of an organization that helps entrepreneurs, like Zeal or 1 Million Cups. The reason I don’t give that answer is because 1 Million Cups already has an organizing team of 5 people and we just don’t need a giant team to run a weekly event that gets 50-100 people in attendance. So, when answering this question, I tend not to give the answer that people expect. Instead, I tend to tell people some combination of these things.

#1 – Get some entrepreneurs together. Entrepreneurship is a really lonely game, because you are usually working by yourself and nobody understands the challenges and struggles that you face. When entrepreneurs get together for coffee or for a networking event, they have the opportunity to commiserate with people that have the same challenges that they do. It also creates the opportunity for collisions. When you get entrepreneurs talking to each other, they naturally form partnerships and create businesses together. I had a coffee event at Zeal a year or two back and two ladies talking at that event decided to launch a conference together at that coffee networking event. I met Andy Traub at a 1 Million Cups event and he was the person that helped me put together my first book. Entrepreneurs will show up if you make an event for them and good things will happen when they get together, there just needs to be someone to be a catalyst saying, “Let’s all go have coffee or lunch.”

#2 – Build a great business in Sioux Falls. There are a lot of reasons there aren’t more high growth startups coming out of Sioux Falls. We don’t have a great university base and there’s not a lot of capital sources. Another one of the reasons we don’t have more startups coming out of Sioux Falls is that we don’t have a ton of success stories of people that built startups in Sioux Falls and grew them to 10 or 100 million in revenue. The best example we have in recent history is Docutap and companies like like Docutap may happen once every ten or twenty years. If we had a new company coming out of Sioux Falls that generates $10 million or more every year and tells their stories, people will get inspired by that. They’ll see the success that other people have through entrepreneurship and take a stab at it themselves.

#3 – Apply your existing skills to help the startup community. When it comes to helping startups, there are really only two things that I do. One, I invest in startups because I’m a pretty decent angel investor. I’ve got the capital to do it. I’ve been there myself and I’m pretty good at identifying what the next steps a company should take care. The other thing I do is create community, because I’m pretty good at organizing and promoting events and getting people to talk to one another. I don’t do much else. I’m not running an accelerator program. I’m not trying to do technology transfer with universities. I am not trying to help the development foundation bring new companies to town. I just do the two things that I am uniquely equipped to do because no one person can or should do anything and I wouldn’t do a good job if I was trying to help startups in a way that was outside of my natural skills and abilities.

Think about what gifts and abilities you already have and how you might be able to use those abilities to help the startup ecosystem. Maybe you’re an accountant and can help startups create financial projections. Maybe you’re an amazing marketer and can help companies develop their strategy to market on Facebook. Maybe you’re a really good baker and you can bring cupcakes to startup events. You don’t have to do everything and you don’t even have to do something all that special, because the way the startup community succeeds is by having everyone help in some small way. For example, there’s a gal named Kim Vander Poel. She asked me this question about a year ago and asked what she could do to help she came up with the idea to have a woman entrepreneur’s coffee meetup every month. It’s not a major thing, but it’s something, it uses her gifts and it helps grow the ecosystem.

So, if you’re interested in helping grow the startup community in your city, it’s not rocket science. It can be as simple as getting some entrepreneurs together and let collisions naturally happen. You could also just build a great business and tell your story to be an example to others. Finally, you can just do what you’re good at already and apply a skill, gift or ability that you have to help startups in your community.

Hopefully this video gives you some ideas and encourages you to think about how you might be able to help your startup and business community. Thanks for watching!

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