Tips from Techstars Americas Summit

I had the recent pleasure of participating in the Techstars America Summit—a meeting of startup community leaders from across the country.

This event, hosted as part of Foundercon (TechStars Global Summit) was held in nearby Cincinnati. Given my role as a Startup Weekend organizer for Columbus, I quickly made the trek down.

Full disclosure—I have a huge crush on Cincinnati; the riverfront, OTR, and neighborhood vibes in this bustling city each add to its character. Don’t worry though, it’s just a crush. However, I’m absolutely thrilled that Techstars chose this location, especially considering Techstars doesn’t  yet have an accelerator in Ohio. Kudos to Cintrifuse’s hard work to bring it to Cincinnati.

So, what were some of the key takeaways? How can we better foster an entrepreneurial community? Techstars Co-founder Brad Feld, a luminary in this space, provided some fantastic insight. Brad has broad experience—entrepreneur, early stage investor, and author. He’s covered all the bases.

Here are some quick highlights of the conversation:

Columbus Needs to Keep Rallying Around the Backyard Effect.

A community should build around five things: culture, capital, talent, density, and regulatory.

The reality is, most places have some gaps, and communities often attempt to address the weaknesses first. However, Brad argues that this is a losing battle and believes that communities should instead embrace their strengths—win the winnable first.

Capital Begets More Capital.

Three years ago, early stage capital was scarce in Central Ohio. This has changed. Rev1 has $60MM capital under management, most recently having announced the $22MM Rev1 Fund, the first corporate-based fund in this region. Consider, as well as other recent the recent funding announcements from Drive Capital and NCT Ventures. In the aggregate, Central has an additional $450 to $500MM in capital available  to concept through growth stage businesses

Now, we’re able to leverage these funds to build a tighter community. With multiple corporations as investors in the Rev1 Fund local corporations are primed to be the future partners, customers, and investors in today’s startups.

Our recent strength of capital isn’t something that happened on its own; Regulatory is another strength of our community Rev1 and other funds have the support of state government through programs such as the Third Frontier program, JobsOhio, and The Ohio State University.

Startups Beget More Startups.

Let’s face it – startups foster more startups, but it takes time to build that critical mass. According to the Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship, our “Rate of New Entrepreneurs” is 9th in the nation. This is great at face value; however, there is still legitimate local sentiment that the community needs to be more supportive to entrepreneurs. Where’s the disconnect?

According to the same index, we’re 30th in “Startup Density.” We need to get more aggressive in helping people jump from their day-job and into a high growth venture. To this end, I was psyched when I saw Lumos Innovation launch an accelerator and I think that the community could use one or two more.

“Startup Density” ultimately impacts the culture of a city and startups’ access to talented individuals. Density helps people feel safe enough to quit their day job by showing that they’re supported by an entire community and surrounded by friends.

Brad Feld says that we should get away from measuring the success of a community on metrics like the number of startups or jobs created. Some years there are going to be more. Some years less. But, if the entrepreneurial spirit is woven into the fabric of your city, it will persist forever.

I like that vision. It seems to fit.

Techstars is a mentorship-driven startup accelerator that began in Boulder and now has expanded to more than a dozen more cities worldwide. Last year Techstars acquired non-profit UP Global and with it Startup Weekend, Startup Week, and other initiatives.