It has been a surprisingly difficult time lately. Not only has the Boston community been rocked in a way that has affected us all so deeply, but the future continues to haunt me in ways that are difficult to put in words.
Yesterday we received word that YC was passing on our application for funding. This is not a huge surprise, as the popular accelerator has an insanely high number of applicants. However, I must say I was surprised we didn’t even get asked for an interview. My co-founder and I put incredible time and practice into our application and had it reviewed by many YC alums, with every word carefully chosen and crafted. Our business fits perfectly within the model of high growth potential with the need for more active guidance from mentors. In the end, we were turned down.
The pessimist in me says that it’s because I’m not a traditional hacker - pretty much every YC company has had a CS undergrad on their team. This puts a huge chip on my shoulder. The same people who claim meritocracy in Silicon Valley don’t give the time of day for being a self-taught programmer. Fuck that.
Time to show them I can build a successful product and company. Let’s go.
A Working Hypothesis For The 3 Most Important Elements Of Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
This past Thursday, I, along with Bill Aulet, was invited by my thesis advisor, Scott Stern, to talk the the Entrepreneurship Lab (E-Lab) course that he teaches. E-Lab is one of the oldest “action learning” classes at MIT that pre-dates all entrepreneurship courses and most other entrepreneurial efforts (e.g., the Martin Trust Center) at MIT. The class is a mix of graduate, undergraduate, and non-MIT students organized into teams that do consulting-style projects with host companies over the course of the semester.
I was invited to talk about my experience with the Regional Entrepreneruship Acceleration Program(REAP) and, accordingaly, my thesis which will assess the REAP program against the success of the regions involved, attempting to accelerate entrepreneurship in their home regions.
As part of my brief talk , I decided that I would give a working hypothesis of what, according to my research and analysis, what were they three most important elements to buidling an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Here they are:
“Setting the table” to allow for entrepreneurship to begin and flourish
Sustained and deliberate leadership in the entrepreneurial community
A shared and publicly available system of measurement
“Setting the table” is perhaps the most obvious, but also, most impactful lesson from Josh Lerner’sBoulevard of Broken Dreams. It involves setting up legal and cultural norms that allow and reward entrepreneurial risk-taking.
Leadership is an important element popularized by Brad Feld in his “Boulder Thesis” for building entrepenerial communities. While I agree strongly with the need for sustained and deliberate leadership to drive the community (as Feld himself did in Boulder), I disagree that this needs to come from an entrepreneur directly, perhaps benefiting from government and corporate roots as well.
Sharing measurement and making it available is a concept being advocated by Mark Kramer in his article “Channeling change: Making collective impact work.” Measurement and accountability is a familiar concept in management and individual performance, however, the practice has been conspicuously absent from efforts of collective action.
What do you think? I would love to hear any comments/reactions to my list here. I also hope to add/remove from this list as I complete my thesis over the next moth.
Building Entrepreneurial Communities: A Review of Josh Lerner’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
Why are you listening to me?
Those that have followed my activities recently know that I’m academically very interested in the formation of entrepreneurial communities. It was the reason I joined StepOne Ventures four years ago, the reason I dedicate at least five hours a week to helping manage the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship and Acceleration Program, and the reason why I’m taking the majority of my last semester’s units in order to complete a thesis on the same topic, with Scott Stern as my advisor.
In learning and developing my thinking in this topic, I’ve come across a lot of opinion and conjecture. Some of it is well-informed, all of it is well-intentioned, and, unfortunately, some of it is simply unproductive/incorrect.
So I thought I could do my little part to contribute to the thinking in this area as I review the academic literature behing building entrepreneurial communities. I emphasize the word academic not because it is guarded by ivory tower piety, but rather because academically-reviewed papers reveal certain truths (scientifically discovered) that should help thinkers untangle truth from conjecture in this still-new area of learning.
How I can help
I hope to contribute to the conversation by reviewing my notes and summaries from the excellent book “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Josh Lerner which outlines the many reasons why governments are obsessed with building entrepreneurial communities and the many ways they tend to fail in doing so. It’s an excellent book and should be required reading for anybody interested in this topic, right along with Brad Feld’s “Startup Communities”
So let’s get started: Introduction
The book starts off by noting, that, opposed to many pseudo-Reaganist recounts of history, there have been some notable examples of successful government intervention sparking entrepreneurial communities; e.g., the dredging of the canal and port infrastructure investment in Dubai, turning the emirate into a leading transportation and shipping hub.
Seeing the success of Dubai, other emirates of course tried and failed to replicate Dubai’s success. Their copy-catting didn’t take off and they didn’t know why. One succeeded and many failed. It’s a pattern repeated over and over again. This book aims to explore this conundrum.
Today I’d like to bring you through our working space here in Sao Paulo.
Bidu has recently had the good fortune of experiencing some amazing growth in both customers and investment. Accordingly, their team has been growing as well, so their normal location on Rua Arandu is currently busting at the seams and the MIT team, along with most of the development team, is taking up work in the cozy quarters at Plug N’ Work, a relatively new coworking space here in the Vila Olimpia region.
Plug N’ Work was began as a way to spur the Sao Paulo entrepreneurial scene and attract mentors and investors to a common location. I cannot say one way or another whether this approach has worked. However, I can tell you that an incubator / coworking space is only as good as the companies inside, and so far, the companies have been impressive. A bit too much service-based (as opposed to product-based) businesses, but everybody has a deep technical understanding that will create rich interactions here.
Bike racks greet everyone at the entrance. I like it!
I’d like to introduce you to my yearly Christmas Mix which contains music that I discovered in 2012 (although was not necessarily created in the year) and a couple of old school tunes thrown in for good measure.
The tradition of the Christmas Mix began five years ago as a way to give a very heartfelt present to my closest friends for Christmas. I’ve gotten some great feedback on the mix over the years and one of the biggest is that I should share it with a bigger audience. Hence, I hope that you can enjoy this broader appeal to good music.
You can enjoy the mix by either downloading the tracks or subscribing to the playlist on Spotify. If you download the mix,lease be sure to organize by track number in iTunes as I did actually spend too much time taking this aspect of my mix into consideration. I’ve noticed that those on PC have had trouble loading the mix, so here’s what I suggest: Click on the “M3U” file that is accompanied with the zip, then open all the files and manually add the files to the playlist that should now be in your music player.
As a special treat this year, I have decided to share with you the “rejects” from this year’s mix: great songs that I absolutely loved, but could not make the cut for the mix: Christmas 2012 Rejects
Oh, and one more thing: As it is the five year anniversary of my first Christmas Mix, I also wanted you all to be able to enjoy my previous mixes. This is only Spotify for now, but let me know if you’re interested in a download, that can probably be arranged.