May 21st, 2020
By Chris Heivly, Techstars Senior Vice President for Ecosystem Development
Entrepreneurial ecosystems are made up of people, and the success of every entrepreneurial ecosystem depends on the level of people’s connectivity to each other. That is the fundamental principle at the core of our Ecosystem Development practice at Techstars.
But why is connectivity so important in the first place?
And what does connectivity look like in this age of social distancing?
The entrepreneurial journey is a twisting, roller coaster ride, complete with the hard work of chugging your way to the top of some milestone only to quickly come hurtling down to a valley of uncertainty, anxiety, and a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Sounds like every day in our households today re: COVID-19.
The work to build our communities does not stop. There really is no real pause button. So what do you do as a community builder? The parallels to the founders we all support are strong. And so are the ideas on how we keep building our communities.
This is a crucial time to reach out and spend a few minutes with your local investors, program operators, co-working spaces, and economic development enthusiasts. Your agenda is simple — just ask them how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to help them. Be a resource and a supporter of their efforts.
Find some new ways to bring founders out of their own personal roller coaster cars and into the community. Create a new virtual event that lets them showcase what they are working on. Invite non-traditional ecosystem members to hear the ups and downs of the founder journey. One of our core beliefs is that one never knows what new connection will spawn something powerful for the company. We refer to this as a serendipitous spark. They come from unknown origins and cannot be planned — though they can be encouraged. We are all getting used to video chats and some people have more time available (though some very much do not). Connect your local founders to your network.
Take a step back and evaluate what your community has (assets) and what is missing (challenges). This is a good time for an honest assessment. From this, you and your peer leaders and influencers can begin to chart out what comes next. You never know what gap you may fill that energizes and catalyzes your community over the next year.
There is uncertainty. There is anxiety. There are more unknowns than knowns. But this much I do know: there will be a greater emphasis in your city to boost entrepreneurship. It would be great if you were ready to offer some ideas, a collaborative leadership team, and a frictionless networked community ready to leverage the opportunity.
Chris is one of the nation’s leading experts on launching startups and has been dubbed the “Startup Whisperer.” He cofounded MapQuest, is an angel investor, ran a corporate venture fund and 2 micro venture funds (directed over $75M), and is SVP Ecosystem Development with Techstars. Chris recently published his first book about starting anything called Build The Fort and is currently writing a book on Startup Community Building.