Thanks Jean and the Case Foundation for taking this initiative and lending your voice to this critical issue. Over the past 6 years, I’ve traveled to nearly every US state; and everywhere I travel I hear the same refrain: “there is more going on here than people realize.” And it’s true if we take the time to look and challenge our assumption that “all good ideas emanate from Silicon Valley.” In fact, many companies we laud as Silicon Valley successes were originally founded in other parts of the country, and their founders only moved to Silicon Valley in order to raise capital.
I once spoke at an event in San Fransisco and, when I commented that there were incredible, smart entrepreneurs all over the country, the fireside chat moderator stared at me with disbelief. “Well, clearly all the serious entrepreneurs are in SFO / the Valley,” she said. So I asked the audience “how many of you are originally from California?” and only a few hands went up. And then I asked “how many of you would have rather built your company in your original hometown?” and nearly every single hand in the audience went up! Yes, people are in SFO / the Valley, but all things being equal (aka, funding), they’d rather build their companies and create jobs in the cities and states where they are originally from.
Ironically, every single state in America has enough wealth to fund an order of magnitute more startup activity than is currently happening. We often dismiss this by saying that these wealthy people aren’t investing in startups. But I have found that to be untrue. In fact, when you ask many family offices, they’ll tell you they are investing in risk capital — they’re just doing it by putting their money in Silicon Valley venture funds!
It’s time to challenge the commonly held narratives about venture capital, growth, exits, and the Valley that tell our entrepreneurs: you must grow hyper-fast and hit a homerun if you are to be considered a worthy startup (singles, doubles and triples are valuable to our economy too!); taking venture capital somehow makes you a sexier, smarter startup (rather than other forms of capital or even…gasp…revenue!); you must move to Silicon Valley to be a serious startup; getting “an exit” is the highest order goal to be admired (versus creating a sustainable, growing company that provides jobs). We must also challenge the biases that Jean lays out around female entrepreneurs, minorities and venture capital.
When we choose to blindly buy into all of these narratives, we behave in ways that kill our country’s entrepreneurial engine! The good news is, we can change our actions by challenging our beliefts.
Genius exists everwhere. Men and women. Every race. Every state; Every city. The cure to cancer may well rest in the hands of an African America girl living in Detroit, or a Latino boy in Sioux City, or a Syrian refugee fighting to survive a war. Society only benefits from their genius if we value their gifts — no matter where they come from or what package they come in!