Chris Heivly, the entrepreneur-in-residence at international startup accelerator Techstars, is one of the speakers at VentureBeat’s inaugural Blueprint conference, happening on March 5-7 in Reno, Nevada. At Blueprint, speakers including Heivly will discuss how tech companies can create higher paying jobs across America and expand economic opportunity for all.
As entrepreneur-in-residence, Heivly is working with Techstars — which now operates more than 36 accelerator programs in 30 cities around the world — to develop a model to help startup ecosystems grow.
Ahead of the conference, VentureBeat spoke to Heivly about how to accelerate startup growth in Middle America. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
VentureBeat: In your role, you’ve traveled around the country for the past year, meeting with entrepreneurs in a variety of cities. What are some of the biggest challenges they are facing right now?
Chris Heivly: Founders everywhere are challenged by the same set of constraints: access to the resources they need to grow their business.
Resources can be defined from abstract to specific. For example: Awareness of what it takes to build a large growth company. Being the biggest company in “fill-in-the-blank-metro” can be a dangerous point of view, because it creates a false sense of progress about what it takes to establish a growth company.
Other resources that can be difficult to access include an available customer base that will work with them through the beta/iteration phase, experienced talent to materially and directly move the company forward, and capital to scale a validated business model.
Most communities today have available seed capital — but most communities do not possess series A (and beyond) capital. This is an obvious constraint that is slowly being addressed, but until then it requires that the local community have an established network of investors outside of their metro who are willing to invest in their metro.
VB: Techstars’ Brad Feld categorizes the people involved in building a startup community into one of two groups: leaders (entrepreneurs) and feeders (government agencies, lawyers, accountants, local universities, and angel investors). What advice do you have for the feeders about how they can best support the leaders?
Heivly: We are working on fleshing this out a little more than the simplistic, two-prong leader-feeder approach. But we have a few notions.
Feeders can be leaders if they leave their business agenda to the side and sign up for the greater mission of building the community. This is difficult for many, but absolutely required for feeders to play a productive role in community building.
“No entrepreneurs equals no community” is something that many government or quasi-government actors forget or miss. To that end, feeders can be most successful when they put the needs of the entrepreneurs first.
Non-founders (feeders) should also wake up every day thinking, “How can I help a local entrepreneur be more successful today?” Do that and the community will grow and prosper.
VB: What are some of the startup communities in the U.S. that have done the best job of facilitating a strong, effective relationship between the leaders and feeders?
Heivly: Boulder has certainly done a great job at this, as Brad shared in his book Startup Communities a few years back.
I am very familiar with the Raleigh/Durham region and the work we have done with the local Chambers of Commerce [and] universities, and a great group of lawyers and their offices has served the community well.
Seattle, Minneapolis, and Chicago are other communities that continue to work together and establish great startup community culture.