Builder's Blog: Who makes up a startup community?


The Builder's Blog is ongoing series exploring issues and topics relative to people actively building startup communities.

“Startup communities consist of many more participants than just entrepreneurs. Government, universities, investors, mentors, service providers and large companies play key roles in the development of a startup community.”

— Brad Feld in "Startup Communities"

Brad Feld literally wrote the book on startup communities. And, I do mean literally—he named it “Startup Communities”. Feld, an entrepreneur-turned-investor-turned community builder, is most associated with the Boulder startup community, which also serves as the example for about 95% of the ideas and strategies in the book.

Startup Communities has helped shape the conversation around startup community building everywhere but particularly here in Iowa ever since 2012 when we invited Feld to speak at an event in Des Moines. That was the same year the book was published and we bought copies for the 400 or so folks in attendance. It's been a handy reference for many of us ever since.

The natural inclination is to think a startup community is first and foremost a group of entrepreneurs but, as Feld points out, it's much more than that: “government, universities, investors, mentors, service providers and large companies”. You could easily add others to that list, too, like startup employees, small business entrepreneurs, Chambers of Commerce, and membership organizations.

As I posted earlier, I define a community as anyone with a shared affinity. In this case, thats an affinity to people starting new companies, creating new products, and establishing new industries. So, I think of the community even more broadly then Feld. In my opinion anyone who self-identifies as part of this community is a part of this community. This includes everyone who shows up at events like 1 Million Cups, Startup Stories, Gravitate Open Coworking, Startup Drinks, etc. and even those who silently cheer people on from the sideline.

Andrew Hyde, another startup community builder based in Boulder, pointed me in this direction. A couple of years ago he spoke in Cedar Rapids about what he’d learned about community through the process of running 1000+ events. He shared five points, but the first three are most apropos to this context:

  • Everyone is welcome.
  • Everyone is valued.
  • Everyone is complex.

Simply by raising your hand and saying “I’m part of this community”—you are. It's our responsibility, as fellow community members, to respect and value you as a member of our community and to understand that you bring different ideas, expectations and experiences to the community.