Historically, regions with vibrant startup ecosystems (think Silicon Valley) have had a critical mix of VC funding, networks, and talent. However, more and more cities are popping up on the startup map through unique public-private collaborations and attractive company cultures. Some of these cities, like San Diego, also boast a plethora of serial entrepreneurs who not only create multiple companies and create jobs but who also give back to the ecosystem via mentorship, investments, etc.
A vibrant entrepreneur-led community also has many benefits for your own company. As Brad Feld highlights in his book “Startup Cities,” which I re-read yearly, there are many organizations such as universities, local governments, and service providers that help move a city’s economics forward, but entrepreneurs also need to stand up and lead their community. There are a multitude of benefits for the community that also provide value for you and your company. Below we take a look at a couple of ways CEOs and founders can be more involved in their communities and how it benefits the ecosystem and your company.
- Talent – While the CEO’s top role is providing talent to the company and making the company operate successfully, assisting in developing the talent in the region is important for a few reasons. Your company can take on interns from local universities and code schools to shadow your team, if you have a big enough company to manage interns. While a company may not be ready to hire an individual, having a ready pool of talent that your company or other companies can hire in the future is a great long term investment. Another key aspect of developing talent locally is developing your trait of talent spotting. Honing your ability to find innate qualities in people and know where to connect them is a superpower. Everyone you encounter is also a potential hire for your own company or investment. A newer CEO/entrepreneur could one day work for you too, either through acquisition, acqui-hire, or a new career path. Knowing where to go to find talent saves a lot of time and the sooner talent is in seat, the quicker your company grows. If you are fortunate to be in a position to invest personally into other businesses, this is also a role of talent-spotting, and having this skillset honed will help de-risk your investments.
- Brand – Getting out in the community already helps build your company’s brand as well as your leadership. This can easily be done by sitting on panels at local entrepreneurship conferences or at a local university business school. An authentic talk from the leader builds an incredible brand beyond the product you sell. This will help with talent acquisition, as you want your brand to be top of mind to job seekers. Also push your VPs and other execs to speak locally too. Hearing from multiple individuals within a company helps validate the company’s brand. It’s never too early to be a thought leader and your team is a great extension and representation of you.
- Mentorship – At least one point in your journey, someone helped you out. It probably wasn’t a formal relationship, but you asked someone for something and they made that introduction or sent that superstar job seeker your way. You do not need to hit some success point like a financial exit to wait to help future or early CEOs. If you make it a step forward, help someone right behind you. It will also help strengthen your entire community. When another company does well, it brings more talent to the region, returns capital to be re-used for more company creation, and creates more jobs. This is a win-win for everyone. You may be able to find formal mentoring opportunities through a local university entrepreneurship center or startup incubator or accelerator. Additionally, a local co-working space have something called “office hours” where you will post up for a few hours and entrepreneurs can sign up for 20-to-30 minutes of time with you. This is a good chance to meet a few founders quickly and see who you can provide additional ongoing advice to. If you get to the point where you can provide long term value, you may want to inquire about being a formal advisor to the company, which typically includes the CEO offering equity shares, typically around 0.25% -1% of common shares of equity, depending on the stage of the company and how much value you can provide. An advisor may want to think about investing in the company as a sign of being “bought in” to their vision.
- Become an Angel: If you are fortunate to have the disposable income to invest in private companies as an accredited investor, nothing shows commitment by having skin in the game of your local startup community like being an investor. You can use a website like Angelist to find companies or meet them through mentoring local early CEOs (see above). You can invest as little as $1,000; however, $10,000 to $25,000 has become a bit of a standard for tech angel investing for the first check. Investing enables you to pay more attention to and have a long term relationship with early stage companies, as well as enjoy a positive outcome that that benefits you and the founders, and hopefully continues to recycle financial returns into other entrepreneurs through future investments.
- Foster Collaboration: Another great way to help fuel the local startup community is to work with other executives, founders and entrepreneurs to create a platform for collaboration. A good example of this is Startup San Diego, a nonprofit, grass roots, volunteer-based group of entrepreneurs, mentors and investors who have created a simple platform to grow the greater San Diego startup community. The organization – now made up of company founders, investors, innovators, mentors and students – continues to foster an innovation economy and build a thriving startup scene through regular events, programs, and resources. The future of startup ecosystems around the nation depends on entrepreneur-led organizations like Startup San Diego helping to lead charge, but also on the broader community to come together to lift the region up. These types of organizations are not only a great way for CEOs to be actively involved in feeding the ecosystem but also a perfect way for your whole company/employees to be involved.
So, whether you are new to a region or have deep roots, it’s critical for your company and for the community to be involved in further fueling the ecosystem by making it an attractive place to live, work and play.
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