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Marching Toward a Sustainable Startup Hub

Brad Feld recently released his latest book, half price until tonight (http://amzn.to/S1A9B0), on Startup Communities.  Brad is one of the biggest thought leaders, and successful practitioners  of building a startup community outside of Silicon Valley.  His success in Boulder is an inspiration for what we are working to accomplish in Athens.  With the release of this book, Mark Suster, another big thought leader on startup communities, wrote a blog post highlighting the 12 ingredients he believes are needed to sustain an entrepreneurial community (http://bit.ly/PvqKll).

Simply put, there’s a difference between sparking a community and sustaining one and his list appears to make one believe that the process is seamless. Instead, I think the process is multi-tiered. As a community builds, it needs to first focus on items #1-5, as it scales it needs to focus more heavily on items #5-7 and as it matures it needs to focus most heavily on items #8 – 12. Just like a startup, building a community is an ongoing process.

Here’s Mark’s list of what’s needed to sustain a community.  Below, I highlight where I believe we are at in Athens and our likelihood of success.

  1. A strong pool of tech founders.
  2. Local capital.
  3. Killer events.
  4. Access to Great Universities.
  5. Motivated Champions.
  6. Local Press/ Websites / Organizational Tools.
  7. Alumni Outreach.
  8. Wins.
  9. Recycled Capital.
  10. Second-time Entrepreneurs.
  11. Ability to attract Engineers.
  12. Tentpole Local Tech Companies.

I fully agree with Suster’s  first 5 components and I see the role of Four Athens as helping to facilitate the continued expansion of these efforts.

A Strong Pool of Tech Founders. Athens has a phenomenal pool of tech talent.  One of the biggest struggles over the past year has been to convince some of those individuals to become founders.  That community continues to grow weekly.  If you visit Four Athens anytime, the majority of the companies with offices have at least one technical co-founder.  It is a requirement to join the incubator. And it is the single biggest factor in determining the success of the community.  Without the tech talent to create, nothing will happen.  You can’t outsource your development.

Local Capital. Athens is a very wealthy town.  We have the capital necessary to support and sustain the local startup community.  Convincing that capital to be invested in startups instead of student housing, bars and restaurants is a different challenge.  With the launch of the Athens Angel Fund, I believe that the standard investor mentality in this town is beginning to change.  Over the next five years, I’d like to see a significantly more robust angel network grow and an early stage VC community develop. At Four Athens, we will lead that charge.

Killer Events.  We have weekly meetups, code retreats, founder’s circles and meet & greets.  Over the next year, Four Athens will continue to roll out additional events to engage the community.  In addition, we are working with Atlanta to coordinate events and encourage collaboration.  More importantly, we are excited to watch the development of Athens Sound City, a 2 day tech/music event in January 2013 (www.athenssoundcity.com).  Stay tuned for more on this event.

Access to Great Universities. Athens has UGA and Georgia Tech is only 1.5 hrs away.  As the startup community continues to develop, better communication with UGA is going to be crucial.  The computer science department at UGA should be leading the way from within the university community. Events like Next Top Entrepreneur  are imperative to spurring student entrepreneurship.  Students will become the lifeblood of the community in Athens.

Motivated Champions. We see this as an intermediate goal (2-3 yrs out).  For the first 1-3 years, we need to focus on internally spurring tech founders, strengthening the local investor community, encouraging broader participation by the university and hosting great local events.  As we begin to solidify these components, brand ambassadors become vitally important.  Thankfully, Athens is such an awesome place to live, that these champions are simple to find in Athens.

We are privileged to live in such a vibrant, innovative town.  The continued growth and support of the startup community in Athens is crucial to our long term economic viability.  We’ve made great strides over the past year in encouraging the creation of bigger and stronger startups.  Money has flowed more freely, communication between the government, the university and the business community has improved and more founders are appearing daily.  I am excited to watch the growth of the community over the next 5 years (and we’ll be able to tackle what we’re doing to encourage items #5 -7 so stay tuned for 5 more years!)

jim
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