Editor’s note: Adam Klein is the Chief Strategist for the American Underground. He is responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the Underground including marketing, programming, and leasing. Prior to that he was with the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce where he launched the Bull City Startup Stampede and The Smoffice initiatives. He’ll be blogging for WRAL News about the launch of non-stop flight service to Silicon valley from RTP, which began Wednesday, and meetings with investors as well as entrepreneurs in technology’s cradle.
SAN FRANCISCO – I had three hours Friday morning before I caught my departing flight home and got to take in one last startup space that was actually located inside another company.
Rickshaw Bagworks, located a little south of downtown San Francisco, gave me a chance to work at a great desk while their employees built slick messenger bags below. It’s impressive how many people and places are offering space to startups in the Valley – even other businesses!
I’m going to wrap up with a few parting thoughts from the trip. I don’t know that any of these are very insightful but I’ve never claimed to be insightful…
1. Quality of life is a big deal to startups.
In an era when you can start a company anywhere, people want to start a company in a place they enjoy. For all the conversation about tax rates, place matters so much more for young entrepreneurs.
Otherwise, it would never make sense to start a company in San Francisco where an apartment the size of a phone booth goes for nearly a grand.
Paying attention to arts, culture, and the music scene matters in our effort to attract and encourage entrepreneurship in the Triangle.
2. Comparing the Triangle with Silicon Valley is not very helpful.
I came on this trip eager to learn how the Valley’s “done it” and feel like I have a clearer picture. But in that process it’s also become clear that Silicon Valley and the Triangle are different places with different cultures, values, and traditions that make it hard to compare the two or try and overlay their ecosystem onto our community.
There are definitely some key ingredients you see across communities where entrepreneurs thrive and the people in the Valley I spoke with were encouraged by what I described was happening in our neck of the woods.
But I think we’ll get further in the Triangle to build a Triangle ecosystem and not a Valley ecosystem. It has to happen with the assets we’ve got at hand, not the ones we wish we had.
Let’s be entrepreneurial and resourceful in how we build the ecosystem going forward.
3. Our strategy must have a long time horizon.
This is maybe the most portable part of the Silicon Valley story. Silicon Valley’s ecosystem is simply overwhelming.
The scale and quality of startup activity here is enormous but it didn’t just happen in the past few years. It’s been decades in the making–refining and restarting, chugging along to the level it is at today.
Brad Feld talks about this a lot. The best thing we can do in the Triangle is think about our strategy in 10- and 20-year increments and work towards that. Patience is key.
4) And finally…universities are vital.
That is great because we’ve got a lot of schools. But Stanford and UC-Berkeley put more muscle behind their students starting companies than Barry Bonds could shake a stick at.
I think this is an area of growth for our region.
Stanford gives its students lots of flexibility in completing their degree if they’re starting a company. (I’m told it’s common for students to skip class to catch a meeting with an investor.)
In that way, the university is more in a position of cheerleader, coach, and launch pad rather than just educator. The schools here don’t wrangle much over IP developed on campus but bank on alumni ventures giving money back to the school after they’ve made it big. And by the look of Stanford’s engineering quad, I’d say the strategy is paying off.
We’re on the right track – nothing in the Valley blew me over, it’s just bigger and more mature than I imagined.
Ultimately, I think our best stuff is ahead of us.
A thriving, world class ecosystem is going to require major leadership from entrepreneurs along with resources from all parts of the community. So I am left with the question, are we up for the task?