Nathaniel Whittemore recently moved to San Francisco to work on his startup called Assetmap. Reading about this week's launch of the city's newest mentorship-driven startup incubator i/o Ventures confirmed for Whittemore that he chose the right city to start up in.
This also got him thinking about what every local startup ecosystem needs and came up with five necessities:
1. Social Density. Talented (Potential) Teammates. Inspiring Peers. Experienced Mentors. Enough people outside your field who don't give a crap to keep you honest. People are the lifeblood of any startup ecosystem; if you don't have them, you don't have anything. Much of the rest of the list is about types of people, and how they find and connect with one another.
2. Great Workspaces. Obviously people can work anywhere, but the difference between a great set of workspace options vs. your house and a crowded Starbucks is huge. So for me, great workspaces means, firstly, great coffee shop density. You need plugs, free wifi, and if possible, some variety of feel. Second, it means (hopefully) coworking spaces or places where there is actual comingling. Finally, it involves room to grow so that it's easy to graduate to bigger spaces.
3. Events. Events are the physical gatherings where people anchor community through interaction. A startup ecosystem needs a pretty rich array of events - from mixers and lunches to maker faires to conferences to pitch sessions to whatever. In a great startup ecosystem, the members make the events whether they're professional planners or not.
4. Proximity to money. I debated about putting this one on this list for the reason that if you have a good product or company, you can go out and find money that doesn't exist locally. But in the end I decided to include it for a few reasons. First, funders are just like any other group. Your social capital and relationships with potential funders create opportunities that cold proposals just don't have. Physical proximity still matters there. Second, the lure of money attracts more of those peers (and in turn, leaves more experienced mentors), so there is some foundational aspect I think to money. Third, if you're in a startup, you have to believe deeply in your own success. Having sources of money around, even if you haven't tapped them yet, makes success feel closer, and that matters.
5. Creative diversity. I think this is more important than it seems. One of the things I love about living in SF - particularly right near Valencia street in the Mission - is that it is where a) a lot of young nonprofit folks are and b) where a good chunk of the artist galleries are. These are creative, driven people, who have nothing to do with technology, but who provide a different lens to see things. At the end of the day, startups are all about thinking outside the box, and it's quite easy to get focused on the inside-the-box thinking of your industry when that is all you experience.
Has your city got what it takes?