Week Nine – Community

Week 9 of the StartFast Venture Accelerator has come and gone; four weeks left to go until Demo Day, August 16. This week everything that happened pointed to the word Community. For example:

  • SU and Cornell administration, faculty and staff leaning in to help StartFast and its teams succeed
  • StartFast resources and teams banding together to stand-up two companies’ products to keep those companies from foundering, and then celebrating as those companies began to thrive
  • Meeting other startups in the broader community at the Tech Garden, Student Sandbox, Tech Meetups, hackathons and Startup Weekends (e.g. Grafighters, Rounded, Singlebrook, BrandYourself)
  • StartFast 2012 co-founders talking about coming back next year as mentors
  • Seeing brand new companies co-founded by StartFast interns
  • Having mentors fly in or drive in from far away, just to spend time with our teams (e.g. Matt Gough, Steve Gal, many others)
  • Substantial support and active engagement from national and regional sponsors like TriNet, UVANY, and Manning & Napier
  • Seeing new incubators and accelerators begin in Upstate like Z80 Labs in Buffalo and GrandSlam Alley in the Capital District
  • Support and participation from angel groups across New York (SCFCNY, ENYA, WNYVA, RAN, and the New York Angels)

The Big Picture

Silicon Valley is a special place. It’s entirely futile for Upstate New York to try to be “the next Silicon Valley”. Manhattan is a special place too, and likewise futile to try to replicate. Upstate New York is home to great colleges and universities with over 500,000 students. That is a lot of talent and creativity and that is one of our unique strengths. We also have a passionate, engaged and supportive entrepreneurial community, low cost of living and good quality of life factors, especially for families. This region will never be Silicon Valley or Manhattan, but we can still be a great entrepreneurial community in our own way, with our own strengths and perhaps avoiding some of the weaknesses that SV and Manhattan have.

Brad Feld tells us that it’s a 20-year journey. We agree with him that it takes the long-term committed leadership of entrepreneurs to make a sustainable entrepreneurial community thrive. That’s why StartFast is entrepreneur-led, entrepreneur-funded and requires a minimum four-year commitment from its investors. We’re in this for the long haul.

There is a multiplier effect at work too. I like to call it the Pay It Forward mentality. Tech entrepreneurs, the best ones anyway, are always available to help one another – often with no formality or expectation of immediate or specific return. This is not altruism, but rather a culture that understands that we are all connected and that helping each other is the only rational choice once you know that. That’s what I mean by Community. And we have a vibrant entrepreneurial community like that here now. Programs like StartFast and the Sandbox are examples of what makes this entrepreneurial community grow. Our 2012 founders will come back as mentors in 2013 and beyond. They will send us applicants they recommend. Some will stay in the area growing our economic base  and some will set up shop elsewhere, spreading our reach to other communities. Some will succeed wildly, putting a larger supply of capital back into the system through their own desire to invest and through the returns they provide their investors. Some will fail, releasing the talent in these companies and the wisdom of lessons learned the hard best way to enrich other companies. And thus our entrepreneurial community grows.

Thanks for letting me expound on the Macro. I needed that. Day to day there are challenges. Teams fall down and are lifted up again. Founders and teams have crises of all kinds. If pain builds character then we must be constructing the Great Pyramid of character. But the StartFast community and the larger entrepreneurial community increases the likelihood that each team will find success. There are eight dramatic, compelling, personal, heartfelt, passionate stories unfolding at StartFast. There are eight great companies being built. You don’t want to miss a single one. You must join over 200 investors, founders, mentors and friends at Demo Day, August 16, 2012.