In building thriving startup ecosystems, experts say density is key.
The idea is to have a critical mass of founders, investors, mentors, and executives mixing and mingling together. That sort of serendipity allows ideas to fully blossom. Think of Kendall Square or Sand Hill Road.
But, for communities not on the East or West Coasts, meeting that definition of density has proved elusive. It’s difficult to retrofit some communities that developed around the automobile, which enabled sprawl. Houston, for example, has multiple industry hubs—around healthcare or energy—in different parts of the city.
Now, things may be changing across Texas, and elsewhere. “We believe you can build communities and support entrepreneurs anywhere,” says Andy Stoll, senior program officer at the Kauffman Institute’s Ecosystem Development in Entrepreneurship program. “In order for them to increase their densities, they have to increase the size of the area in question.” (Which might seem counterintuitive, but read on.)
That’s the intent behind a recent announcement by the Capital Factory in Austin and the Dallas Entrepreneur Center that the two are working to create a “Texas Startup Megatropolis.”
“Launching in Texas gives access to four of the 11 largest cities in the country that are within driving distance of each other,” Joshua Baer, Capital Factory’s founder, wrote in a blog post earlier this month. “No Texas city will be a world-class startup hub by itself, but the Texas Startup Megatropolis can take on any other city, state, or country in the world.”
Capital Factory’s members now have access to the Dallas Entrepreneur Center’s mentors, investors, programs, and investment competitions. The DEC will have similar privileges in Austin. Next month, Capital Factory is hosting two events at the DEC, both of which will be live-streamed back to Austin. “Many of the events that we have traditionally done in Austin will now rotate monthly from city to city around the state,” Baer writes. “We’re going to get people moving from city to city more often—and we’re optimistic that will result in more money flowing from city to city, too.”
Other U.S. regions are seeing wisdom in this approach—though it may be too early to point to any results yet. Earlier this year, an effort called Launch Florida started to bring together entrepreneurial communities—accelerators, founders, investors, and others—in that state’s widely spread cities of Tampa Bay, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Jacksonville.
In December 2015, Xconomy brought together Michigan leaders for an “unconference” to discuss breaking down silos that existed between the innovation ecosystems of Ann Arbor and Detroit. As attendee Gerry Roston, CEO of Civionics and an executive-in-residence at TechTown in Detroit, pointed out, the distance between the two cities is nearly identical to that separating San Francisco and San Jose—so why is one called “the Bay Area” while the other is known only as its parts?
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