It Takes a Village to Start a (Startup) Village: 5 Themes to Remember

It Takes a Village to Start a (Startup) Village: 5 Themes to Remember

In an era when entrepreneurship is an increasingly accepted element of economic development, cities and towns are eyeing new ways to generate the kind of rapid growth that will fuel a post-recession economy. Kansas City’s Startup Village (KCSV) is one model that communities are banking on. This close-knit, dense neighborhood of startups, almost exclusively high-tech in nature, came for the Internet, but they’re staying – and the reasons are more complicated than the blazingly fast Google Fiber that has been grabbing headlines in this Midwestern metro for months.

The KCSV has been nabbing headlines all over, most recently for the announcement of a partnership with NetWork Kansas that designates them an “E-Village” with access to a tax-credit generated loan fund for entrepreneurs and for the news that they are hiring their first staffers. This community of two-dozen+ startup businesses in Kansas City’s “fiberhood” is attracting a lot of attention from would-be copycats. Provo, Utah officials stopped by Kansas City last week to study the effects of Google Fiber on catalyzing entrepreneurial activity. They’re asking the same thing many other communities across the country are wondering:

“How can we start a startup village?”

No doubt about it – many communities want startup villages – dense pockets of business startups to energize the entrepreneurship landscape. But, it’s easier to imagine sharp young hackers, leaders, and entrepreneurs converging happily on your community’s bungalows than actually getting them there. Here are 5 themes we think communities can develop to create their own startup village.

1.) A carrot. In order to change the game, your community has to have something that draws entrepreneurs. Many residents of the KCSV are not KC natives, but were drawn by the allure of Google Fiber from other cities. Your carrot doesn’t have to be fiber Internet, and you don’t have to pursue tech startups, but you need to have a reason that entrepreneurs want to stake their village in yours.

2.) A community. While many startups came for the Internet, they’re staying in Kansas City for the community. In the KCSV, the density of the startup community, where entrepreneurs co-work and sometimes even live, makes collaboration more likely and develops a sense of identity. The KCSV is physically ensconced in the community and that makes it easier to become an organic part of the big picture. Startup crawls1 Million Cups networking events, and other opportunities literally leave an open door to Kansas City.

3.) Shared purpose. Members of the KCSV are “co-leaders” and play an active role in shaping what they want their shared business futures to look like – and how they interact with the larger community. Common challenges unique to tech-oriented startups make practical sense for collaboration, and the ethos of entrepreneurship forms a sort of social philosophy. While the connections between startup businesses are important, the fact that the KCSV is also integrated into the larger community is key to its sustainability.

4.) Resources. It’s not as romantic as the first three reasons, but a startup community of any size needs support. Connections to mentoring and other technical resources are important, as is capital. The KCSV plugged in to a dynamic entrepreneurship community. Kansas City is home to entrepreneurship heavyweight, the Kauffman Foundation, and features a well-connected roster of resources facilitated by KC Sourcelink, among other advantages. The KCSV is not an island. Practical challenges, like a need for funding, are being met through partnerships with other organizations, like NetWork Kansas. A business can not live on fancy Internet alone, as the saying goes, and a community is wise to consider how to leverage resources to supply startups with what they need before inviting them to set up shop.

5.) Intentional Flexibility. The KCSV started organically and continues to develop in response to both internal and external factors. But, the existence of the KCSV was no chance occurrence. Kansas City has been proactive about developing in a way that would be attractive to entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to Google Fiber. Kansas City developed leadership teams, including an entrepreneurship one, in advance of Google Fiber’s implementation. While you can’t force a startup village, you can facilitate it. Be intentional about pursuing factors that make your community ripe to become a startup community and then let it develop on its own.

Communities using their best resources to attract entrepreneurs to collaborate along a shared purpose is our idea of a startup community. What themes do you think are important for success?

Content contributed by Anne Dewvall, NetWork KansasNetWork Kansas is a proud affiliate of U.S. Sourcelink, America’s largest resource network for entrepreneurs.

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