By Chris Heivly, Entrepreneur in Residence at Techstars
Great startup communities have meaningful connections from every actor in the ecosystem. Corporations are one of those critical actors. Why? It’s actually simpler than you think. There is something in it for everyone. The perfect win-win.
For an effective win-win, you must have two motivated parties each of whom get obvious value from the connection.
The problem with the corporation–startup community connection, or lack thereof, is that the value for each actor is many times not obvious.
I liken this relationship to the idea of two old college roommates who haven’t spoken for 10 years. We like each other but we have no idea what is going on in each other’s lives. In the void of information, I just don’t care as much.
But once we reconnect, our motivation to support each other seems to accelerate and all of those little nuggets of each other’s lives feel important again.
For mid to large size corporations, the two most common challenges to maintaining or growing their business are:
- Staying innovative, and
- Talent recruitment.
For startups, the challenges are simple:
- Stay alive,
- Introduce and validate their product idea, and
- Find real customers.
Unless you are Apple, Amazon, or Google (and a few others), corporations struggle to say current. Every corporation I am engaged with has doubts as to how innovative they are and have some level of fear that a new company will come along and take their customers. In addition, finding and recruiting new talent to address their innovation needs is next to impossible.
But they have customers, deep industry and product knowledge, and money.
Unless you are one of the very few startups that have raised more than enough capital to meet your long-term needs, you wake up every single day worried about whether you can find a customer to use your product.
Can you see the basis for a healthy relationship? There are so many win-win connect points and opportunities if each actor just tries a little harder.
I will go out on a limb and say to my corporate friends that the onus falls a little more on you than the startup. You are the pretty girl/boy at the high school dance. Can you make it a little easier for us dorky startups over on the wall?
How do you do this? It’s really quite simple. Show up. Every reasonably-sized startup community has formal and informal networking events. Show up. Share who you are and what you care about. The rest will quickly take care of itself.
Looking for another way to connect? Both corporations and startups benefit from Techstars corporate partner accelerators:
- Corporations, learn how Techstars can connect you with the most promising startups to future-proof your business;
- Startups, apply now to Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator programs.
Building a collaborative startup community is not easy; there is no specific rule you can set. It is a community ideology, mindset, and shared dreams between all of its players. But where do you start? What is important? Here are three important things you should keep in mind.
Build a Shared Purpose
Communities must be innovation platforms; players seek a basis for trust and organizational cohesion. The sociologist Max Weber famously outlined four basis for social relations, which can be roughly summarized as tradition, self-interest, affection and shared purpose.
This shared goal is not an expression about what we create individually, but about the overall value we can orchestrate through collaboration with our broader ecosystem, which we’ll always be able to count on, because of its flexibility and fertility for growth and innovation.
The process of achieving a purpose is rarely simple and straightforward; startup communities must move through several distinct phases.
They should engage all the players and allows them to meet regularly to share ideas and discover common ground. They should also create contexts in which people can begin to imagine, and act, from a new sense of possibility to find new and better ways to work together.
You can start with analyzing the situation and determining the key issues involved. It moves on to a definition of the fundamental mission or desired outcome. Everyone then articulates a common vision and works out a plan and a timetable for meeting their goals. In most cases, the process concludes with an assessment of the outcomes and a review of lessons learned.
Some ideas to foster collaboration:
Developed by the Founder Institute, the canvas seeks to provide the local entrepreneurs a clear list of resources for every stage of their startup journey. Also, the canvas can be a shared understanding of what the ecosystem actually is, and allows everyone to have a good perspective for both community builders and startups on the local ecosystem to exploit existing chances and at the same time identify missing links.
Startup Week is a celebration of entrepreneurial events in cities over five days where participants can choose the events they’d like to attend that are held at various venues across a town. By having more organizations and communities participating, you can have the ability to link people, ideas, and resources that wouldn’t normally bump into one another, and help creating a unique density around your community’s unique entrepreneurial identity.
Create a Culture of Collaboration
The hardest challenge for any startup community that wants to turn into an open, and collaborated network, is to develop and grow the culture of collaboration. To make this work, startup communities must be inclusive. This means being genuinely open to everyone who wants to engage in the community irrespective of who they are or where they originate from. This also means believing in collaboration as a fundamental part of building the ecosystem to guide the community towards that collective fulfillment for continued growth, which in turn will enable the essential collaboration endeavor.
The first place to start with is your organization/community. Try to think in ‘win-win’ terms rather than seeing interests in conflict with other players, devote many of your resources to attain full collaboration, and relentlessly communicate the need to make enhanced collaboration a success. By doing so, you set an example through your behavior in the way you collaborate to direct the community toward more collaboration.
Empower Entrepreneurs Leadership
Collaborative communities cannot get off the ground without a core group of entrepreneur leaders who foster the collaboration, establish the vision and community values, and attract more people to the ecosystem. That does not mean top-down authority structures, titles or specific roles, it’s more like evolving with a group that provides the social capital and infrastructure that other participants can build on.
Since the leaders are entrepreneurs, they can identify the problem and conduct continuous evaluation of the community.
Having the entrepreneurs lead is essential to building a sustainable startup community. In every startup ecosystem, lots of different organizations and individuals get involved and play a significant role, include governments, investors, mentors, universities, big business, etc. Although their involvements are essential, they can’t be the leaders of their local startup community. They must be feeders.
In his book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, author Brad Feld pointed out what it takes to create a community of entrepreneurs in any city.
“Leaders of startup communities have to be entrepreneurs. Everyone else is a feeder into the startup community. Both leaders and feeders are important, but their roles are different.”
To more empower and connect their cities to the wider world, entrepreneurs leaders develop contacts not only in their local hubs but also beyond them. By taking action, they provide authority for others to become leaders.
This was originally published here.
Startup Weekend Greensboro
April 17th, 2015
This post is from Andy Stoll, a social entrepreneur and media producer. He is deeply involved with the Iowa Startup Accelerator, EntreFEST, and he co-founded Seed Here Studio, a media and marketing agency dedicated to building a stronger community of entrepreneurs and creatives in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area.
I have spent the better part of the past decade helping entrepreneurs and creative people turn their ideas into reality–almost daily I get the question, “I have an idea, now what?”
Here are 5 strategies to get you started on turning your ideas into reality:
1. Tell a lot of people about your idea
This at first sounds counter-intuitive and is often met with the response of, “Won’t someone steal my idea?!” The truth of the matter is 98 percent of the time, you are not the first person to come up with an idea, and in most cases, your first initial idea is actually fairly crappy (because it needs sharpening). In entrepreneurship, success isn’t built on being the first to think of an idea, but it has everything to do with how well you execute and build your idea into reality. Facebook, for example, was not the first social network, just the one that executed the best.
Why tell others about your idea? Because it will make it better. The act of sharing your idea will help you get better at talking about it. When you share your idea, you’ll find that people will offer you critical feedback and often times recommend resources to move your idea along (“You should talk to my friend Dave who….”).
2. Surround yourself with other creatives and entrepreneurs
It has been commonly said that you “become the average of the 5 people whom you surround yourself with.” I take that to mean, “If you want to be a dancer, hang out with 5 other people who are dancers.” The same holds true if you want to be an entrepreneur.
Also, by surrounding yourself with creative and entrepreneurial people, you will learn to dream bigger and push harder, while meeting other people who may help you along your journey (and it’s often a longer journey than you expect).
3. Expose yourself to specific strategies to be innovative
In the last decade two leading methodologies have emerged to help put into words the actual process of “innovating” and making ideas happen. The Lean Startup Methodology and the Business Model Canvas are two of these strategies that are taking the startup, creative, technology and business worlds by storm (trust me, Google them), spawning books, conferences, evangelists, workshops and thousands of more successful innovative companies. The best thing about these methodologies is that they can be learned.
4. Try and fail, a lot
Also, counter to most logic, if you want to get good at making ideas happen, you first have to be bad at making ideas happen. Though I certainly don’t wish failure on anyone, failure is often the best teacher.
5. Attend a Startup Weekend
The good news is there is a single place where you could do all of these things mentioned above for very little money and very little risk! Startup Weekend is likely the single best ways for you to “try” entrepreneurship and try to make an idea happen. The risk is minimal (a little bit of money and a weekend of your time) and you will come out of it with new ideas, new friends, new knowledge, and I almost guarantee you’ll be fired up even more to take action on your ideas!
Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at swia.co!
One of the great beauties of startups is flexibility. Yes, you will likely work yourself crazy, but much of the work can often be done anywhere from the isolation of your bedroom to the free Wi-Fi at the mall. Not taking advantage of everything a startup community has to offer will hurt your business, though. By nature, startup entrepreneurs are passionate, hard-working, and dedicated. Tapping into this network will not only benefit your own business, but you can likely contribute something unexpected of your own.
At the very least, networking is sure to bring plenty of free drink opportunities.
Be A Follower
The easiest way to get your feet wet in the startup community is through good old fashioned research. Get the names of the biggest startup successes in your area right now or even rising stars that intrigue you and your startup. Now follow them. Read their posts, tweets, and blogs—more importantly, participate. Share the articles, respond to their authors, and make a little noise in your community.
Networking and forming online connections isn’t only about promoting your own business. People love to talk about themselves: learn to be a listener. When you make a new connection, think first about how you can help them, rather than what they can give to you.
“Pro-actively giving may seem like a cost, and it may require you to be a little extra patient as well,” says Andrew Hoag, founder and CEO of Black Drumm, “but in the end, the reciprocal support I receive, simply by offering to help people who aren’t asking for it, is overwhelming. It builds tremendous loyalty and respect.” While it may seem cliché, a little good karma goes a long way
Close The Laptop
Building an online presence can only do so much without face-to-face connections. Events, big or small, can help to put a face to a name and leave a much more lasting impression with the community.
Meetup is built on the principle of learning and sharing with neighbors. Search “startup,” “entrepreneurship,” or even “networking” and find groups of like-minded people either holding lectures, networking events, or simple hangouts. Meet as many people as you can—talk about your ideas, talk about their ideas, and innovate together. Not enough meetups in your area? Use those connections through the online community you’re building and start one yourself.
Not everyone, and especially not busy startup entrepreneurs, has time to commit to the plethora of events out there, let alone organize them. It may be more efficient to get a little narrower in the search: Startup Digest compiles events for startup entrepreneurs specifically. Squeeze an event in with lunch or dinner. After all, everyone has to eat.
Pitch Yourself, Not Just Your Company
If you haven’t already mastered your elevator pitch, now is the time. Create your story. Practice it. Reword it. Perfect it.
People remember stories better than titles or company names. When you’re networking in a room full of entrepreneurs, you’ll need a little something extra to stick in people’s memory. Stories promote authentic connections, whether it be business-related or not. Connections build relationships, and relationships build networks.
Start with the basics in a simple formula, and color it from there: “I have a background in X, and I’m currently working with X, but I’m actively getting involved in X through my new business.” Or, “I attended university for theater but found my passion for new media through a volunteer project, and now I’m CEO at X publication.”
While attending events and chit chatting over appetizers is important, seeking out individuals themselves will create an even stronger connection. Find a local entrepreneur that you admire and ask to buy them a cup of coffee for a few minutes for their time.
“Becoming immersed in the entrepreneurial community can yield a variety of benefits . . . Go on coffee dates, attend conferences, and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” advises Alison Pincus of One Kings Lane. You’ll be surprised how far a simple email request can go. Keep the request short and sweet, and avoid talking business as much as possible. Open a conversation, develop the relationship, and the benefits will follow later.
There’s really no excuse not to, with apps such as Coffee the App that can do most of the work. All you have to do is swipe left or right to indicate interest, and you’re automatically set up to converse with those who reciprocate.
Cowork, Co-live, Co-everything
Networking can also be integrated completely into working time: coworking.
With the enormous rise of startup entrepreneurs and the sharing economy in the last decade, these shared work spaces have been popping up around the world in interesting shapes and sizes. There, you can simply pay a monthly fee and use the shared office space whenever you need. You will be held accountable for your productivity, not only by the fact that you’re paying for the space but by the people around you who are creating and accomplishing, as well. Naturally, innovation and collaboration flourishes.
For coworking enthusiasts and those available for complete immersion, co-living space is its own community within the community. Krash offers co-living spaces in Boston, NYC, and DC, boasting speakers, group dinners, and getaways for their members. To put it in their own words, co-living at Krash “is like getting a back-stage tour to the local start-up and innovation economies.”
Take Your Time
It’s important to remember, lastly, patience. A reputation with and integration into the startup community won’t come overnight. Take care with each interaction, and stay personal. Sending out too many LinkedIn requests or demanding too much of the community can make you appear to be desperate. Build relationships through sincere interactions and relevant conversations. Your community will grow from there.