People like Brad Feld have done a lot of writing on startup communities and what makes strong entrepreneurial ecosystems unique. Some of it is tangible — great engineering schools (Stanford), tech success stories (Google/Apple/Facebook), access to angel/venture capital (pick one) — but there are other factors that are much less obvious.
I’ve been to startup events in lots of different cities and when I’m in Silicon Valley, I notice something special that happens.
You’re standing in a circle at a party talking to a bunch of people, someone new approaches the edge of the circle, and we naturally opened up to let them join in. It doesn’t matter who the person is. They could be a software engineer, entrepreneur, or an accountant. It doesn’t matter if that person obviously has something they could give you or if you have absolutely nothing to gain from them. The circle always opens.
There are a few other entrepreneur communities that share this kind of openness. Boulder has it. Austin seems to have it.
I’ve been in other places where the circle didn’t open. I walked up to the edge and the circle stayed closed.
Every time it happens, I notice it and every time it doesn’t happen, I notice it too.
This kind of hyper-inclusiveness is one of the things that sets Silicon Valley apart from anywhere else. I write entrepreneur fan mail all the time and 90% of the time, those random emails to entrepreneurs I admire end up in coffee meetings, shared meals, and advice. That’s the power of Silicon Valley. It’s dumb easy to get smart people to talk to you.
Cities all over the world are working to build startup communities and thinking about how they can cultivate a vibrant startup culture in their region. Government initiatives and grassroots efforts have all converged to try to replicate what works in Silicon Valley.
Entrepreneur communities outside of Silicon Valley don’t need to mimic what’s happening here. You’ve got unique values of your own. But if there’s one thing you can learn from 50 years of Silicon Valley innovation cultivation, it is to make your circles as open as possible.