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The Un-Silicon Valley: Entrepreneurs Build Startup Communities

By | 05.03.13

The Un-Silicon Valley: Entrepreneurs Build Startup Communities

While the very idea of reliance and partnership may seem counter-intuitive to the rugged individualist, entrepreneurs have reached the opposite conclusion, finding that it takes a village to nurture a startup. Or, more accurately, it takes a community of startups to start and grow one of their own.

The New York Times reports that startups are increasingly creating and clustering in Silicone Valley-like communities that aren’t entirely based on the like-mindedness of risk takers – but based on geography, talent pools, access to capital, and lifestyle. And regardless of whether the communities spring up organically or by plan, they are also increasingly fleeing suburbia to take root in urban settings.

“During the Industrial Age, a lot of activity moved to the edge of cities and to the suburbs,” said Richard Florida, a professor of urban studies at New York University and the University of Toronto. “And we believed then cities had been supplanted. High tech was happening in suburban areas of Silicon Valley, and outside of Boston, Seattle, in the Austin suburbs, and in Research Triangle. But in the past several years we’ve seen an incredible, accelerating shift in startup activity back to urban centers.”

And while borrowing from the Silicon Valley playbook, these new urban-centered communities develop a culture and vibe of their own. Consider, for example, a setting known as Silicon Beach, an area of Los Angeles that includes the Santa Monica and Venice beaches, downtown Los Angeles, and Hollywood. It was cited by the Times as a startup community unique in feel, and very L.A. in purpose. Because of access to technology, business, marketing and media talent from nearby studios, and U.C.L.A., U.S.C., Silicon Beach has become a magnet for gaming startups and an incubator for other media/technology ventures.

The population density offered by urban centers is the key to seeding startup communities, according to Brad Feld, who guided Bolder, Colo. into the startup era. Boulder itself is unique as an urban setting, as the community as a whole has a population of only around 100,000. But Feld believes the city has more startups per capita than any other city in the country. “The number of people working for startups is off the charts,” he wrote in 2011. Because Boulder is first and foremost a place attractive to young and old alike, it is a natural for startup activity, according to Feld. He told the Times that people will naturally build lives where they went to live, and that includes creating the means for making a living. Boulder is now home to 191 startups, three incubators, six business accelerators, nearly three dozen investors, and a host of support groups and events.

But even cities that don’t have the natural attractiveness of a Boulder — cities like Detroit and Las Vegas — have their champions. The Times cited Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and Zappos founder Tony Hseih as examples of “angels” attempting to seed startup communities in their downtrodden cities. According to the Times, Gilbert has spent $1 billion trying to stem youth flight and brain drain, and revitalize Detroit. Hseih has directed $50 million of his $350 million investment in Las Vegas revitalization in the VegasTech Fund, which grants seed money to tech startups.

Reference:

Zimmerman, Eilene. “What it Takes to Create a Start-Up Community“, NY Times. 4/26/13

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