Nose in, hands out — How one mayor is leading his local entrepreneurial ecosystem

Most mountain towns trace their roots to a courageous few pioneers — willing to try something bold in a new location.

Today, all across our small mountain towns, community leaders continue to pioneer. However, instead of gold and silver, they’re working to solve local socio-economic problems by leveraging startup economies.

Morgan Goodwin, the Mayor of Truckee, has been hard at work fostering this pioneering spirit. In traditional startup hubs, local government often takes a backseat. But that’s not Goodwin, and those aren’t Truckee.

Just before heading off to join a panel discussion on building the Truckee-Tahoe Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, I caught up with Goodwin to learn how he has gotten the local government behind the Truckee Startup Movement, their role, and more…

Starting his quest for local tech….

When Goodwin moved to Truckee he was working remotely as a Senior Online Campaigner for Avaaz, an online activist network. While he thrived in Truckee’s outstanding recreation and scenery, Goodwin struggled to “find my people” when it came to working with fellow techies.

Shortly thereafter, he found the Tahoe Silicon Mountain Group and started working on incorporating Truckee’s tech and freelance employees into the community. The local community embraced Goodwin’s inclusive vision, electing him mayor that December largely based on this platform.

Within two years, Goodwin played a major role in helping open a local maker-space, the Truckee Roundhouse. The 3,000 square foot space was founded as a nonprofit and is located in a warehouse near the airport, where it benefits from reduced rental rates too. The space embodies the local collaboration that Goodwin aims to foster.

Image: TruckeeRoundhouse.org

On getting government buy-in…

Fast-forward to February 2017 at the Mountain Ventures Summit in Telluride, Truckee’s presence shined, largely thanks to Goodwin’s rallying. The “Truckee Contingent” included members of Tahoe Silicon Mountain Group, Goodwin’s city council, the local Community Foundation, Chamber of Commerce, and more. Truckee’s various stakeholders were a strong statement for the future of local entrepreneurship.

According to Goodwin, the Mountain Ventures Summit was as a catalyst for his government’s local startup support — “the potential was there, and the conference made it a direction.”

“Nose In, Hands-Out”

Goodwin and other panelist would echo this phrase for their government’s role in the community’s entrepreneurial movement later that night.

While he helped make the Truckee Roundhouse a reality, Goodwin quickly points out the limits on his government’s role.

As more local efforts spring up, Goodwin notes “I spend a lot of time saying no — the government is not the right thing to lead this.”

Rather, Goodwin aims to leverage the government’s unique position as a knowledge-base of who’s doing what, and so he spends a lot of time making helpful introductions. As an elected official, he sees himself accountable for asking, “what can I ask my network to do?”

Going Forward

2017 will be a busy one for entrepreneurship in Truckee, with a pitch competition and incubator in the near future.

Looking past 2017, as Jamie Orr, co-founder of South Lake Tahoe’s Tahoe Mountain Lab, would put it,

“You underestimate what you can do in ten years, and overestimate what you can do in one.”

A few hours after we spoke, a room full of Truckee citizens gathered to hear Rachel Arst McCullough present her learnings from the Mountain Ventures Summit, followed by a panel discussion with Goodwin, Orr, and Jan Holan, President of Tahoe Food Hub (a local nonprofit increasing access and sustainability for local growers).

While they laid out their vision for a local entrepreneurial ecosystem, the open Q/A session would surface a lot of local enthusiasm, and concerns. Going forward, it’s clear that a large portion of Goodwin’s own role is spent listening, rather than creating himself.

Concluding the event, Goodwin quickly laid it out there for his fellow citizens…

“I think the next step is to go start a company.”
Entrepreneurship is taking root in the communities surrounding the picturesque Lake Tahoe.