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Density Matters

This weekend is the culmination of a two month cycle thinking about the importance of physical space for a community. As we spend the weekend moving the Four Athens office down the street (165 E Dougherty – come visit, we have parking!), officially sign our agreement with the Athens Downtown Development Authority (ADDA) to help startups move downtown and reflect on a meeting earlier this week with the group in charge of the Downtown Master Plan, I feel that I can’t stress the importance of space enough.

There’s an allure in the startup world to creating a company out of your bedroom or garage.  In robust, mature startup ecosystems, the plausibility of this route makes sense – you’re still close enough to the connections, knowledge and customers you need to be successful. And it’s cheaper.  Within a mature system, the ease of finding what you need is simplified.

In a fledging ecosystem, working out of your bedroom/garage/coffee shop can be a business killer.  First, the psychological impact of creating a company is immense.  Isolating yourself physically can heighten the intensity by making it feel like you’re the only one experiencing ups and downs.  Within a community space, when you’re having bad day, it’s easy to walk down the hall and talk to someone about an issue that they may have either experienced before or they are going through the exact same thing.

Second, by inserting yourself into a community, you find potential customers, contacts and mentors much easier.  People like to work with and help people they know.  If you are continually isolated you have less opportunity to make long lasting connections.  A 30 min coffee meeting is never going to create the long term connection you need for someone to care about what you’re doing. To be successful, you need people to care about you –not just care about your money or what you can do for them, but really care about your success or failure.  Working in close proximity can help foster and cement these relationships.

While it may be more cost effective to stay in your bedroom, I believe this view is short sighted.  In Athens, you can rent an office or even just a desk in a co-working hub for as little as $65 a month.  This small investment will provide instant structure and will get you around like-minded individuals.  It’s too easy, in an isolated office, to get bogged down in your work and therefore miss opportunities to connect or to get distracted by personal tasks (just one more load of laundry!) and miss out on work. Creating barriers between your professional and personal life is worth a few bucks a month.

In studying successful tech hubs, it’s easy to see that proximity and density of startups is a crucial factor to succeeding.  At Four Athens, we’re trying to spur this density in downtown Athens.  We know that there are hundreds of people in the Athens area working on startups.  Every week, I meet many people/groups that are starting a business.  I encourage all of them to get involved in the community.  The easiest way, in my mind, to get involved is to be around it every day.  Rent an office downtown and start running into other startups while grabbing coffee, meeting clients or brainstorming at Walkers.  Be in the office as we bring investors or mentors around to see what is going on in the community.  You’d be amazed by what’s happening in Athens when you start getting involved.

We have a target of putting 50 startups in downtown Athens by September 2013.  We’ll accomplish that by removing barriers to getting space – low cost space, no long term leases, no negotiations with multiple landlords, property managers or building owners. Your job is to start a company with as few complications as possible.  We are here to help.

jim
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