Building a Startup City

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This past week I had the pleasure of heading down to sunny Tampa, FL to speak on building a startup community at the Synapse Innovation Summit.

You’ve seen the news lately — it’s clear that there are more and more options for growing a company outside of Silicon Valley or NYC. In fact, research shows that is often the preference for reasons like lower cost of living, tax breaks, and overall quality of life (i.e. in Salt Lake City and the Midwest).

Spending time building community in the two top startup ecosystems — previously at Draper University in San Francisco and currently at Work-Bench here in NYC — I understand the value of these major hubs, but can also abstract that value to build better up and coming startup cities.

In my presentation at Synapse, I shared the 3 key components to the framework for building a startup community: identify, build, share.


When we think about building an inclusive startup ecosystem, we need to make sure that everyone has ample opportunities to get plugged in — especially founders building companies.

The first step to building a startup community is to identify the natural resources within it. The “natural resources” are the key stakeholders who make up the entire ecosystem: founders, VCs, ESOs, government, academia, service providers.

By identifying all of these resources as data points, we can create a transparent community that leverages each part to build a stronger core… and we can also clearly identify what gaps need to be filled.

PRO-TIP: Build an open-source database to identify key stakeholders.

At Work-Bench, we recently sourced a list of enterprise startup founders (who are women) to identify speakers for our Navigate 2018 Summit. We decided to keep this as a central resource and a living document to help everyone in the ecosystem identify this talent — in doing so, we can help rise the ENTIRE community of enterprise tech.


Once you have identified what stakeholders are involved, the question becomes how do we 10x the knowledge and network we currently have, and translate that to fill the gaps we’ve identified?

We build with tools: events, knowledge share, talent, and customers.

At Work-Bench, as an enterprise technology VC fund, we focus our time on providing value in these areas. Our community has been built through our 200+ annual events, programs like Hack The Network, curated Executive Briefings for our corporate network, and much more.

PRO-TIP: As a community builder, make it your mission to leave every conversation asking: How can I be helpful to you? Small acts of service and providing value to others lead to large, longer-term impact for all.


Once we’ve worked hard to identify our community, to fill the gaps through our toolbox… it’s essential to communicate that story.

We want entrepreneurs from all over the world to come to our city because we have some of the best founders, mentors, and funders with domain expertise in that space.

As a community builder, it’s essential to communicate great things that are happening in your city through your personal brand. Building our personal brands will in turn elevate our city’s brand. Go the extra mile.

PRO-TIP: The humble brag. Share the exciting opportunities and awesome people you are meeting with to your network — you’ll find that they want to participate and support your endeavors too.

See my full presentation linked here, and leave a comment to share any community building tips of your own!

P.S. Ready to dive in to building your startup community? Pick up a copy of Brad Feld’s Startup Communities. Feld has a great framework for approaching growing cities, with lots of anecdotal stories from business leaders in Boulder, CO.

Many thanks to my community building friends who shared their suggestions with me on my LinkedIn Post.

In the spirit of building community — please let me know what has and hasn’t worked for you, and how I can help you in your endeavors to build a local startup community!

Written by

Director of Platform at Embarc Collective #WeEmbarc

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