Just over a year ago, Inc.magazine published an article written by Eric Markowitz about the Startup America regions called "Is this the end of Silicon Valley?" Menacing title aside, the article wasn't about the end of anything. It was about the beginning of entire movement of start-up communities galvanizing across the country.
As the managing director of our start-up regions, I have had the thrill of working closely with entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. In every corner of the country, I've seen sparks of entrepreneurial activity --- very cool things happening in unexpected places. Entire communities sitting down together and asking, "How can we help entrepreneurs?"
The biggest obstacles aren't what you would expect. Yes, there are challenges unlocking capital and funding early stage companies. Yes, many communities are still working to put strong mentoring networks in place. Yes, access to technology talent is a stretch sometimes. But the biggest obstacle I most often see is perception.
In his article, Erik wrote, "[the Startup America Partnership] was created to 'inspire and celebrate entrepreneurs,' while helping aspiring business owners make contacts within the venture community. The ultimate purpose of the Partnership is to create jobs... "
That is a lofty goal and still holds true today. In order to fulfill it, we need all start-up communities to band together around the idea that it's not just tech start-ups that become high-growth companies and create jobs, and it's not just happening in Silicon Valley. I hear entrepreneurial leaders all over the country talk about Silicon Valley with a pining envy. This focus on playing second fiddle becomes an enabler to doing less than everything possible to support entrepreneurs locally. Should every city that isn't Silicon Valley simply throw up their hands in defeat?
It is a self-fulfilling prophecy to start with the premise that vibrant, cool, high-growth companies can only be built in Silicon Valley. It causes young people to trek to California to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, investors to put their money in out-of-state companies, governments to view their own states and cities as second-class places, and entire populations to feel insecure about the future of their home state economy.
It's time to stop this cycle and recognize that, with the right support, great companies can be created anywhere. Until we really begin to believe this (and begin acting like it!), state economies and our country's economy as a whole will continue to falter.
There are two keys to the equation and both need to be tackled: 1) Get more companies rooted in your state, and 2) Help those companies bloom where they are planted. Everything stems from this. Are you going to sit back and wring your hands about Silicon Valley? Or will you take a fresh look at your own community's strengths and assets and think creatively about how to foster more high growth start-ups?
My challenge to you is two-fold. First, get all of the young, high-growth companies in your state to join the Startup America Partnership so we know who they are and can help them take advantage of all the resources, opportunities and connections being provided. Second, gather together other entrepreneurial leaders and think about how you can make your community one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business (learn more about being a Startup Community Champion). Together, we can make sure that start-ups from Dallas to Des Moines and D.C. to Detroit have the support they need to succeed.