5 Questions with Ian Hathaway, co-author of The Startup Community Way

Aug 06, 2020
Ian Hathaway Startup Community Way Image

Ian Hathaway is Senior Executive Director for Ecosystem Development at Techstars and co-author of the recently released The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. Ian is a leading thinker and writer on entrepreneurship and the innovation economy. He also advises, mentors, and invests in software, media, and consumer startups in the United States and Europe. Ian has been a longtime consultant and executive for global leaders in technology, media, finance, and government on matters of innovation, strategy, and policy.

01. What is “The Startup Community Way”?

The Startup Community Way is a book I co-authored with Techstars cofounder Brad Feld. It’s a collection of frameworks, principles, and action points that guide and inform practitioners and observers about the key characteristics, behavioral patterns, and basic function of startup communities and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Our thinking is supported by the science of complex adaptive systems, which explains the behavior of inherently unpredictable, emergent phenomena. We apply insights from systems thinking and community-building across many contexts to enable better engagement and more productive outcomes for entrepreneurs.  

02. What are the most important elements of a thriving startup community, and how can people foster those elements? 

Our central message is that any startup community can be improved when a credible group of leaders come together with the shared mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. They should do this by making a long-term (generational) commitment, taking a #GiveFirst approach (helping others without the expectation of receiving something in return), and above all, placing the entrepreneurs at the center of everything. Startup communities exist to enable collaboration, support, and knowledge-sharing for the benefit of entrepreneurs. These principles are simple to understand, but easy to overlook.   

03. What benefits does a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem bring to a city or region?

A strong ecosystem produces better entrepreneurial outcomes. Entrepreneurial successes are an engine for innovation, growth, and job creation. As many of these benefits spillover into the broader economy and society, entrepreneurship helps drive economic prosperity and vibrancy for entire communities. In places where dynamism has been lacking, entrepreneurship can help provide a renewed economic vitality, sense of optimism, and upward mobility. In places where entrepreneurship is not a part of the social fabric, entrepreneurial success can illuminate what’s possible through the path of entrepreneurship and inspire the next generation of great founders.  

04. How is this book different from Brad Feld’s 2012 book, Startup Communities

Brad’s first book, published in 2012, created the idea of a startup community and used Boulder, Colorado as an example of how to create a startup community anywhere in the world. It is built around a framework called The Boulder Thesis, which helps people understand how to build a startup community in their city and why it is important to do so. Eight years later, there has been a broad democratization of entrepreneurship throughout the world. The Startup Community Way is a sequel, using complex systems as the framework for explaining how to develop, grow, and evolve your startup community. The Startup Community Way is also global in scope, as are the stories told by guest contributors, and the data points used to support many of our arguments.

05. How do startup communities help make the world a better place?

The world needs entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need communities. The first gives the second a reason to exist, while the second accelerates the first. Fundamentally, startup communities exist to help entrepreneurs succeed. When that happens, everyone else in the broader community — consumers, businesses, workers, public officials, and many more — benefits too.