What Can Startup Communities Do for Rural America?
Originally published on Techstars’ blog by Matt Helt
For two and a half years now, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand the power that entrepreneurship brings to communities around the world.
From Amman, Jordan, to Cebu, Philippines, to Lincoln, Nebraska, I’ve had a front row seat at one of the most powerful, yet widely unknown, change-making activities — startup community development.
After this year’s presidential election, I needed a few days to digest the outcome. I read countless op-ed pieces and blog posts, the authors all trying hard to tackle the “why” of what had just occurred. One thing seems to stand out from the dozens of opinions I’ve read:
White, rural, blue-collar workers in the U.S. feel ignored and have watched their standard of living collapse.
Their once dependable jobs have been ripped away and sent to a foreign land where workers get a tiny of fraction of the salary U.S. workers once received.
The reality is that these Americans have been suffering for a long time and we failed to listen. We discounted their feelings and chalked up their plight to the reality that the U.S. was moving away from manufacturing. Put simply, rural America felt ignored and they elected the person they felt was most likely to do something about their situation.
So the question is, will manufacturing ever return to the U.S.? The quick answer is most likely not. The reason I say this is that corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maximize profits and grow their business year over year.
If they fail to do this, they have to answer to these shareholders and risk losing all the wealth they’ve tried to accumulate. As long as American workers’ salaries are many times higher than their counterparts overseas, this dynamic will continue.
How Startup Communities Lead to Job Creation
All of this leads me back to startup communities. From my experience developing these kinds of communities all over the world, I think entrepreneurship is the single greatest opportunity rural America has for business and job creation.
For those unaware of what Techstars Startup Programs are, we focus on giving Community Leaders tools and resources to develop startup ecosystems in their towns and cities.
Programs like Startup Weekend teach people how to take an idea they have for a business and turn it into working concept in just three days.
Startup Week is a 5-day, free event for anyone interested in entrepreneurship to come and learn from their peers how to jump into the startup world.
Startup Digest is an online calendar of startup events curated by local community leaders. All of this activity, driven largely by volunteers, creates a support system to encourage individuals to take action and start their businesses today.
What Can Startup Communities Do for Rural America?
First, it gives people the inspiration to develop the idea they’ve been working on in the back of their mind. It shows them there’s a path forward, and if done properly, can lead to real opportunity. All it takes is access to the internet. The internet has created a true egalitarian system that gives entrepreneurs access to customers anywhere in the world.
Second, startup communities share best practices and mentorship. Through shared learning, startup founders are much more likely to succeed and avoid the pitfalls others have experienced.
Third, communities that have strong startup ecosystems retain talent and attract outside investment. These dollars stay in the community and lead to business growth, which ultimately leads to job creation. The more businesses that are started, the more people are employed. (For examples, see the resources at the end of this post.)
The last point I’d like to make about startup ecosystems is that it requires the community to embrace radical inclusion. This means anyone who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur is welcome to take part. There can be no exclusion based on gender, race or socioeconomic status. All are welcome to take a seat at the table.
We at Techstars are ready to help. We have a global network of community leaders, entrepreneurs and mentors who are ready to give back and help build communities. And we’re not the only ones. There are dozens of organizations that are providing the same education and support.
But what we need most is you. Our programs are built so that anyone, anywhere can follow our structure and develop a grassroots startup community in their own backyard.
America is already great today because of our entrepreneurs. If we want a future where everyone can thrive, we need to make sure everyone knows that entrepreneurship is a real and viable path towards achieving that goal. We’re all in this together — let’s not miss this opportunity.
To learn more, visit the Techstars Startup Programs page of our website and take the lead on fostering entrepreneurship in your community.
We developed a whitepaper in partnership with Google called “Fostering a Thriving Startup Ecosystem.” Check it out to learn the five key ingredients we’ve discovered every community must have to foster entrepreneurial growth.
For in-depth instructions on how to properly support a startup community, read Startup Communities by Brad Feld. It’s the go-to source for all things community-related and will give you real world examples that you can emulate.
This was originally published on the Techstars’ blog.