November 12th, 2020
By Chris Heivly, Techstars Senior Vice President for Ecosystem Development
Startup community enthusiasts can never stop raving about their town. They can share, without a moment’s hesitation, which event you should attend, or the fact that one of the local companies’ just raised a series A round, or that Inc. just ranked their city #16 in the top 100 cities for “Best City to Start A Business.” attention
It’s not just the startup scene they get excited about, it's also the art scene and the restaurant scene and the fact that the local university just got its first Nobel laureate, and the supporting facts just keep pouring out.
This phenomena has a name: topophilia. It’s the love of or emotional connections with place or physical environment. I know the term from Yi-Fu Tuan, who employed the term for the feeling-link between person and place as part of his development of a humanistic geography. (I have an undergraduate and Masters degree in geography so I had to read stuff like this.)
Topophilia in terms of a startup community is one of those chicken and egg like conundrums. You need good stuff happening in order to feel a strong link to your community but you need a community to find out what good stuff is happening.
To answer the conundrum, I would suggest understanding the flywheel effect, a notion articulated by Jim Collins in which “tremendous power exists in the fact of continued improvement and the delivery of results."
Applying the flywheel effect for startup communities means that you have to push at every aspect of the community over a period of time before the community begins to move without your individual push efforts. A few examples:
The local college or university hosting startup competitions
A startup welcome committee or programs to connect newcomers
Frequent angel dinners with current and prospective angels
An easy-to-find job board that brings awareness to technology startups
Consistent meetups that draw most of the startup leaders most of the time
There are probably 50 more small examples that individually may seem like small potatoes but that collectively build confidence, reveal stories and engage actors across the entire ecosystem.
Put many of these into play and the flywheel begins to turn on its own.
Maybe this is a new element of topophilia — the way we personally invest in and subsequently enjoy our place with a long term view.
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.
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