March 14, 2010
The final session I attended on Saturday here at SXSW was titled “Don’t Move! Build a Startup Community Where You Live,” and it was one of the better ones by far. As an entrepreneur in the Washington, DC, area, I have always been very passionate about the local technology community and have worked hard with others to bring attention to it and help it grow. I have always hated the talk that you need to move a company to the valley to be anything; that is BS. So this panel intrigued me, and it did not dissapoint.
The panel was a great mix of entrepreneurs from smaller communities around the country that have had varying degrees of success building them up as standard bearers. They were: Jeremy Tanner (Boulder, CO); Rick Turoczy of Silicon Florist (Portland, OR), and Jeff Slobotski, Silicon Prairie News (Omaha, NE). The panel was moderated by Erin Kotecki Vest of the Queen of Spain blog and BlogHer. All of them had great advice on starting and building a thriving local technology community. One of the most important points was to start something, anything, and do it consistently.
Building these communities has not been without its challenges, though. All of the panelists noted:
1. You need to find a good core group of people. One person cannot do it all, and the group will enable you build up to scale.
2. To find people in small towns, go to lots of events – everything you can find to reach other people
3. Have patience and consistency.
4 . Most of all, accept your city’s culture and work with it.
Rick Turoczy says he is fortunate to have backing from the Portland government. City officials are providing all kinds of help to develop the local technology community – from helping to set up co-working spaces to even developing a seed fund for local startups.
Members of the audience had some great questions, including one in particular that resonated with me about what to do when many groups in a city are working toward the same goal but in a disparate fashion. We’ve seen this issue in DC, and I’ve always been curious about how to handle it. Unfortunately, there was no real consensus on a good answer.
Here are a couple more tips from the panelists in response to audience questions:
- Scatter the times of your events to reach an entirely different group; don’t assume everyone has the same schedule as you.
- Don’t emulate the efforts in other cities; simply choose pieces that will work best in your community and use them
All in all a great event. You can check out the Twitter stream for it HERE.
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