How to Turn Your City Into a ‘Startup City’

Buffalo

@StartUpGrindBuf asks, “Turning #buffalo from a #rustbelt city into a #startup city?”

Emerging research validates that “where” entrepreneurs start is as important as “what” they start-up. And when it comes to where, it’s all about how. How prepared is your city to revitalize small business, encourage entrepreneurship and stabilize start-ups, really? Any region hoping to own a coveted ranking on the next top 10 list of start-up cities must be thinking deeper than old school incentives and more like entrepreneurs to address the invisible needs that aren’t discussed or met.

  • What percentage of your city’s total business is small businesses? How engaged and invested is your business ecosystem? How is your city encouraging support of your local business including big business, small business and start-ups across all B-to-B, B-to-C and industry sectors?
  • Has your city clearly identified all of the industry clusters, market potential, expertise and supports needed to make it all happen? Do your citizens know what you are hoping to build and own? How is the city shaping the business concentration and communicating the common goals, to the whole community, necessary to sustain and accelerate highly specialized industries, innovation and partnerships?
  • Is your city more loyal than progressive? How is your city training the conservative, stodgy and mid-sized businesses to take interest in the start-up competitors, services, and technologies?
  • Is your city piloting major reforms intent on eradicating corruption, nepotism, old guard entitlement and free enterprise killers? How is your city dealing with the established political networks that fear disruption and hinder fair competition?
  • Is your existing start-up community sprawled about, fragmented and disconnected? How is your city dismantling “scarcity mentalities” that hinder the “collision density”* required to sustain a vibrant entrepreneurial culture?
  • How many of your co-working facilities are really investor and university incubators bartering space, interest-free loans and mentors for an equity stake? How can your city inspire legit, no-strings co-working and networking that fosters the level of “collision density”* needed to inspire solutions, partnerships, and innovations?
  • Does your city value or devalue the support services, industries and niche professionals necessary to bring new businesses and products to market? How is the city preparing the interconnected business ecology to respect that it’s going to take the village operating as a united strategic advantage this time?
  • Does your city know “who” they are looking for? How is the city attracting and vetting entrepreneurs that can really go the distance? How is the city separating the well-connected, wild idea generator with seed money from Dad and nothing better to do from the business savvy, indefatigable visionary with ample technical skills and just enough operational knowledge to nurture the start-up through idea, launch and phases of growth?

*Collision Density: as the density of people increases, interactions (collisions) increase.  These collisions lead to unplanned idea exchanges, which increases innovation. (1)

In ideal ecologies, entrepreneurs attract entrepreneurs, start-ups launch start-ups, small businesses invest in the community; the community re-invests in small businesses, all of which cultivates a cluster effect that evolves into a distinct, reinforcing, start-up friendly ecosystem. And this is the problem for any city hoping to “become” a start-up city. Cities shy of entrepreneurs, cities wooing start-ups from long and far, cities having to incentivize relocation, and cities that aren’t known for their distinct, reinforcing, start-up friendly ecosystem likely have wicked problems that hinder entrepreneurial pursuits and start-ups.

The serious competition for the Start-Up City title is a wicked problem unto itself. Like the classic, “All American City” before it, “Start-Up City” has become the latest de-facto brand identifier that too many cities are slapping on their welcome signs and municipal letterheads. Defending the brand position and standing apart as a serious contender for the crown requires radical change and serious investments beyond superficial access to investors, hubs and affordable housing: Streamlining bureaucratic obstacles and “city hall” mind sets. Removing overlapping procedural layers while making it easy and obvious where to go for assistance, or how to assist. Leveling the playing field and democratizing competition. Supporting existing enterprises, stimulating latent industries and re-engineering next generation developments ahead of the curve while nurturing start-ups. Sustaining buy-in while abolishing the practice of back room deals and entitlement privileges. Inspiring an overarching atmosphere of consumer engagement and business investment that advocates ownership of and pride in the city’s life support, the sustainable business ecology. These are the difference makers.

And then there is the ethical dilemma. Every wanna-be, Start-Up City, in dire straits, luring boot strapped entrepreneurs to your experiment has a duty to consider the ethics of disadvantaging innovation, investments and entrepreneurs in economically repressed, politically beholden or uber conservative regions not ready to develop a reinforcing, start-up friendly ecosystem. Cities coming to see the value of start-ups this late in the game are definitely disadvantaged; but not as disadvantaged as the start-ups that get wooed into cities with one time grant funded programs making big promises but having no community engagement or synergistic “collision density” strategies (that actually work), no major reform pilots that ensure access and opportunity, no long term sustainability plan and definitely no know “how”. Entrepreneurship is not something “out there”, it’s carried in the vulnerable hearts of people that think different and embrace progress. Any city vying for the heart of entrepreneurs has a responsibility to evaluate their own.

I say all that to say this, @StartUpGrindBuf. I launched a start-up in Buffalo. I know what the city has to offer and what it has to overcome. Ramping up a Start-Up City begins with kick starting the human spirit (not free rent at a high cost). In which case Buffalo has an amazing competitive advantage. Rally, harness and channel the Buffalove to dismantle the barriers, get down to business and lay claim to your seat at the start-up table. Identify ways to bring the community together rather than isolate, exclude or pit competing factions against one another (insider versus outsider, art against industry, profit versus non-profit). Buffalo’s resilience, fortitude and spirit could prove be a fiercely supportive business culture that excites entrepreneurial thinking and amplifies successes, begetting more ventures, spurring more investment, evolving a distinct, reinforcing, start-up friendly ecosystem.

Where there is Buffalove there is a way and a “how” to jump start the human spirit, the key to your Start-Up City.

(1)   “Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities.”Luís M. A. Bettencourt,*† José Lobo,‡ Dirk Helbing,§ Christian Kühnert,§ and Geoffrey B. West*

(This content was originally posted at Brand Mother Strategies.)

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Gloria Zemer

Gloria Zemer is Brand's over protective Mother, defending substance with style for profit and good! Gloria nurtures the Mother of all brands to life at Brand Mother Strategies. Ask her any brand thing at @AskBrandMother.

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