How to Build a Startup Community: Do's and Don'ts

by Abdullah Alshalabi, January 8, 2013

Since I returned to Kuwait after living abroad, I have been asking myself how we can build a startup community in Kuwait. We lag behind many other countries in the Middle East when it comes to building a startup movement, but by founding the StartupQ8 blog and monthly event series, I’m working to change that. One source that inspired me is Brad Feld’s latest book Startup Communities; below is a summary of the things that you should do and avoid doing when trying to build a startup community, inspired by his advice. 

 Do’s:

  1. A startup community must be lead by entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs should be the leaders of the startup movement; all others- investors, government, universities, large companies and service providers- are important, but they are essentially supports and should not lead the actual movement. This sounds simple, but it’s important to define the necessary source of the movement to future confusion.
     
  2. Leaders should have a long term commitment. Building a startup community takes time; 15-20 years at the minimum, says Feld. So leaders should be entrepreneurs with an intention to stay and build new companies in their city for the long run.
     
  3. Everyone is welcome to join the movement. Discrimination has no place in a startup movement. Everyone should be able to join and help support, regardless of their background, age or nationality.
     
  4. An ecosystem should have regular activities and events. Frequent startup and entrepreneurship events, or those that repeat regularly, whether weekly, monthly, or yearly, help to consolidate communities. Events also shouldn’t compete with each other, but should diversify to complement each other.
     
  5. Have a great accelerator. TechStars is simply one example of an accelerator that was able to catalyze its startup community in Boulder, Colorado. Accelerators are important because they gather entrepreneurs, mentors, investors and service providers in one place.
     
  6. Get universities involved. Universities are the suppliers for fresh blood and talented labor. They need to be involved in the whole system in one way or another. Building a connection with students clubs is a good start to start building momentum.
     
  7. Give before you get. I believe this is the secret weapon of all successful startup communities. The idea is to give and help others without waiting for a return. Experienced and successful entrepreneurs should share their knowledge with young entrepreneurs openly. The more the community is open and willing to share information with each other, the faster they’ll improve.

Don’ts:

  1. Don’t complain about a lack of capital: If you have a great startup, investors from other cities and other countries will be happy to fund you. Great startups will attract investors, not the other way round.
     
  2. Don’t be too reliant on government support. Governments are slow, complicated and risk averse. Basically, they are the exact opposite of a startup. Try avoiding dealing with the government as much as you can. (The last sentnce is actually my advice, not Brad’s).
     
  3. Don’t have a bias against newcomers. Newcomers to your community should feel like they are among friends. Avoid having closed teams or cliquish groups.
     
  4. Don’t create a culture of risk aversion: Low risk investments typically give a low return and most great companies today began as crazy ideas. If you want to have great companies in your city, you need to encourage going after risky ideas that may initially sound a little crazy to some.

Building a startup community is not an easy job and it’s not something that will happen over night. However, it only takes one person to start the movement and transform her city into a top startup hub. Brad Feld did it in Boulder and Fred Wilson in New York. Who’s going to be the next hero in your city?

Important Note: This short list by no means substitutes the need to read the book Startup Communities. If you are serious enough about turning your city into a great place for launching startups, then read the whole book. 

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Abdullah is the co-founder of fishfishme.com, and he also started a blog and a monthly event called StartupQ8 to help building a Startup Ecosystem in Kuwait. You can follow him on twitter @a_alshalabi.

 
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