In an era when entrepreneurship is an increasingly accepted
element of economic development, cities and towns are eyeing new ways to
generate the kind of rapid growth that will fuel a post-recession economy. Kansas City’s Startup Village (KCSV)
is one model that communities are banking on. This close-knit, dense
neighborhood of startups, almost exclusively high-tech in nature, came for the
Internet, but they’re staying – and the reasons are more complicated than the
blazingly fast Google Fiber that has been grabbing headlines in this Midwestern
metro for months.
The KCSV has been nabbing headlines all over, most recently
for the announcement
of a partnership with NetWork Kansas that designates them an “E-Village”
with access to a tax-credit generated loan fund for entrepreneurs and for the
news that they are hiring their first staffers. This community of two-dozen+ startup
businesses in Kansas City’s “fiberhood” is attracting a lot of attention from
would-be copycats. Provo,
Utah officials stopped by Kansas City last week to study the effects of
Google Fiber on catalyzing entrepreneurial activity. They’re asking the same
thing many other communities across the country are wondering: “How can we start a startup village?”
No doubt about
it – many communities want startup villages – dense pockets of business
startups to energize the entrepreneurship landscape. But, it’s easier to
imagine sharp young hackers, leaders, and entrepreneurs converging happily on
your community’s bungalows than actually getting them there. Here are 5 themes
we think communities can develop to create their own startup village.
1.) A carrot. In
order to change the game, your community has to have something that draws
entrepreneurs. Many residents of the KCSV are not KC natives, but were drawn by
the allure of Google Fiber from other cities. Your carrot doesn’t have to be
fiber Internet, and you don’t have to pursue tech startups, but you need to
have a reason that entrepreneurs want to stake their village in yours.
2.) A community. While
many startups came for the Internet, they’re staying in Kansas City for the
community. In the KCSV, the density of the startup community, where
entrepreneurs co-work and sometimes even live, makes collaboration more likely
and develops a sense of identity. The KCSV is physically ensconced in the
community and that makes it easier to become an organic part of the big
picture. Startup crawls, 1 Million Cups networking events, and
other opportunities literally leave an open door to Kansas City.
3.) Shared purpose. Members
of the KCSV are “co-leaders” and play an active role in shaping what they want
their shared business futures to look like – and how they interact with the
larger community. Common challenges unique to tech-oriented startups make
practical sense for collaboration, and the ethos of entrepreneurship forms a
sort of social philosophy. While the connections between startup businesses are
important, the fact that the KCSV is also integrated into the larger community
is key to its sustainability.
It’s not as romantic as the first three reasons, but a startup community of any
size needs support. Connections to mentoring and other technical resources are
important, as is capital. The KCSV plugged in to a dynamic entrepreneurship
community. Kansas City is home to entrepreneurship heavyweight, the Kauffman
Foundation, and features a well-connected roster of resources facilitated by KC Sourcelink, among other advantages.
The KCSV is not an island. Practical challenges, like a need for funding, are
being met through partnerships with other organizations, like NetWork Kansas. A business can not live
on fancy Internet alone, as the saying goes, and a community is wise to
consider how to leverage resources to supply startups with what they need
before inviting them to set up shop.
5.) Intentional Flexibility. The KCSV started
organically and continues to develop in response to both internal and external
factors. But, the existence of the KCSV was no chance occurrence. Kansas City
has been proactive about developing in a way that would be attractive to
entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to Google Fiber. Kansas City developed
leadership teams, including an entrepreneurship one, in advance of Google
Fiber’s implementation. While you can’t force a startup village, you can
facilitate it. Be intentional about pursuing factors that make your community
ripe to become a startup community
and then let it develop on its own.
Communities using their best resources to attract
entrepreneurs to collaborate along a shared purpose is our idea of a startup
community. What themes do you think are important for success?
Content contributed by Anne Dewvall, NetWork Kansas. NetWork Kansas is a proud affiliate of
U.S. Sourcelink, America’s largest resource network for entrepreneurs.