Syracuse’s Progress Towards Becoming a Successful Startup Community

In 2012 Mark Suster wrote an article outlining his twelve tips to building a successful startup community.

Over the last ten years, local entrepreneurs, business leaders and Syracuse University have focused their efforts on creating a welcoming environment for startups in Syracuse and Upstate New York.

Two years after Suster’s article was published, I think we should take a look at it as a measure of the progress Syracuse has made towards becoming a Startup Community. This week we’ll start with the first four items on his list and continue with the list in following posts.

Component 1: A strong pool of tech founders
With Sidearm Sports, Ensemble VideoSAAB Sensis and others building their businesses in the area, we are making the preliminary steps to create a pool of Tech Founders. I meet a number of Tech Founders who independently work on their businesses, but the way I see it the goal needs to be to create a large pool, a project that we consistently need to work towards by creating a welcoming environment not only in the Syracuse entrepreneurship scene, but with financial incentives to keep businesses in Upstate New York.

Component 2: Local capital
Suster’s point here, that early stage capital investments will be geographically based, can be seen in Upstate New York through investment groups like UVANYCayuga Venture Fund, and Armory Square Ventures, as well as through various private investors. I think we are making excellent progress towards creating opportunities for startups to tap into local capital. I don’t think local capital investments will grow until we see more startups with large growth potential. At this point, it is a balance between talent and investment.

Component 3: Killer events
This is an area where I think Syracuse and Upstate New York are making great progress. I consistently have a calendar filled with various events meant to assist startups, and the recent growth of Hack Upstate hackathons and the ability of Startup Weekend events to bring talent from all over the region is very promising. Add to this the upcoming Emerging Week in April, which boasts a full week of events meant to bring community leaders and collegiate talent together, and I think Syracuse leaders, as a whole, have done well not only creating events, but making sure they are well attended. Of course, we can always use more events. I love to see that Rounded gives back to the community with Rounded Presents once a month, and I would love to see more companies that stay in the area take the initiative to participate with their own take on a community event.But what I see as most exciting in this arena is the growing number of groups that are engaging local thought leaders. Groups like Girls in Tech, The Syracuse Innovators Group, Hacks/Hackers and The Syracuse Bitcoin Miners show that now the area has enough people that are interested in various areas of tech and innovation to warrant segmented events and gatherings. We are seeing growth and momentum, and these groups are the first places to look for up and coming talent, whether it is in tech or engagement.

Component 4: Access to great universities
I think this one is a no brainer. There are more than 100 colleges and universities in Upstate NY educating over half a million students each year. The major roadblock has been communication between not only the silos of each university, but the silos within each university structure. Although we have seen some major progress with letting key members of universities know about events, and have reaped the rewards by seeing student attendance from a variety of local universities increase, this is an area where it really is an uphill battle. Not only is the challenge engaging professors and key personnel, but getting the message to a student population whose consumption of information is segmented. Our access is incredible, it is our ability to leverage that access which still needs work. 

Next week we will explore Syracuse’s progress in four more of Suster’s requirements for a successful startup community.