There are vibrant startup communities all over the country. Everyone knows that San Francisco, Chicago and New York are hubs for startup activity, but there are many smaller regions in the U.S. that are producing some of the biggest names in technology. Boulder Colorado, Bend Oregon and even Madison Wisconsin are names I keep hearing while reading about startups.
Although population size plays a role, it cleary isn’t the main determinant of whether an area is going to be a thriving startup community. In his book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, Brad Feld provides a list of components for a successful startup community. I believe Northeast Wisconsin (NEW) has or can build all of these components: entrepreneurs, programmers, designers, service providers, investors, you name it. It’s all here, and it’s our goal with Digital Fertilizer to bring everything together and start building a successfuly, sustainable startup community.
For some reason there seems to be a competitive relationship between many cities in NEW, but I believe we can only sustain a startup community if we turn that into a collaborative relationship. It’s great for each city to have events and resources for people and businesses only in their area, but they have to tie into something bigger. One of the goals of Digital Fertilizer is to provide an accellerator program for fledgling startups, but there’s no way we can do that sustainably without the infrustructure to support it, and that needs to built up by everyone interested in startups in NEW.
Another big challenge is going to be getting the local education system and government agencies to help in cultivating entrepreneurship and providing people the skills necessary to build high-tech, high-growth businesses. Most of the business in the area is focused around manufacturing and lifestyle businesses. These are an essential part of a local economy, but if we want to become a community that produces startups we need to devote resources to creating the necessary components to sustain them.
Everyone wants to attract startups to their area, but right now it seems no one knows how to do it. The local government and investors are ready to supply resources to cultivate these types of businesses, but the movement must be entprepreneur led, and right now there is too large of a disconnect between the entrepreneurs and innovators to build anything substantial. Digital Fertilizer aims to change that.
What’s Happening Right Now
We already have some exciting things happening in the area. We have the Green Bay OpenCoffee Club meeting every other week, the Digital Fertilizer Meetup holding larger monthly events and Matthew Straub is organizing some fun evening events for entrepreneurs in Appleton (Tweet at Matt if you want to get invited to those). I’m sure there is more going on in the area too, so please leave some links to other events in the comments, but those are three great opportunities for people to start getting connected in the local startup community. If you are looking for other ways to contribute to the community, please feel free to contact me (me [at] chris-schmitz.com) and lets grab coffee!