I really enjoyed reading Feld’s Startup Communities, all about the Boulder, Colorado, startup ecosystem. Boulder is a fun, quirky town at the foot of the mountains, which has tremendous startup activity in technology, biotechnology, and natural foods (tea, for instance). Feld tells how entrepreneurs make their own communities through volunteer leadership, taking a bottom-up approach. Neither venture capitalists, governments, nor universities call the shots in the making of a vibrant community.
Startup Communities is partly a study in good networking, packed with examples of interesting activities like meetups, coffee clubs, and Startup Weekend. The book, however, carries broader messages about leadership, including the need for inclusiveness, community engagement, experimentation, outreach to other communities, and cultivation of new leaders. Feld has discovered how much entrepreneurs can get done without relying on government initiatives.
Still, Feld despairs of policy leadership since officials have different agendas and time frames than entrepreneurs do: “Government is going to do whatever it is going to do…” While he’s right on the mark about the importance of bottom-up leadership, he could be underestimating the capacity of entrepreneurs to become policy entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs by nature are in a hurry, yet some do engage in policy affairs when they perceive a serious effect on their business. For example, a small group led by Sherwood Neiss, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, et al made recommendations on crowdfunding for the JOBS Act. No way can entrepreneurs alone remake government, but if they are selective they can have a valuable voice. As Feld himself notes, leaders should have a vision and a 20-year commitment, so perhaps there is time for policy change too.
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