When people think of technology, they often think in general terms like “the cloud” or “artificial intelligence.” But technology is physical. It is cables and servers and the mobile device in your pocket. Technology is also human.
I don’t mean this in some philosophical sense. I mean that the physical components that make up technology are built by human beings. And human beings vary, as do the communities in which they live.
Technology may be flattening the world, but we are still in many ways reflections of our local communities and their histories — particularly in less transient communities where people have established deep roots. These communities aren’t usually what we have in mind when talking about great startup ecosystems, but they can actually become thriving tech hotbeds.
I saw great examples of this — and the ways that large companies can help foster these communities — at the VentureBeat BLUEPRINT 2019 event in York, Pennsylvania.
The York Plan of the 1940s allowed different industries within York County to come together and build the parts needed to help the United States win World War II. Today, John McElligott, Founder and CEO of York Exponential, is heading a York Plan 2.0 and wants the area to become the robot mechanic capital of the world. He said he was not authentic with his first startup and tried to turn York into a new Silicon Valley. He realized that wasn’t playing to the community’s strength. So instead he tapped into the community’s roots — hard-working people who are good with their hands and machines — to come up with the idea of repairing robots.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
Matt Lewis, Director of Make It. MSP, an organization that works with more than 100 local companies on strategies to retain talent, shared an interesting fact about Minneapolis/St. Paul: It has the largest collection of Fortune 500 headquarters per capita of any place in the United States. He discussed a variety of reasons for why that was the case, but regardless of how it happened, entrepreneurs are using that to their advantage now. That is why enterprise tech is a huge market within this area: There is a need, and startups are popping up to fill that need.
Manchester, New Hampshire
My own city, Manchester, was once a booming textile manufacturing mecca but struggled with hard economic times for decades. The city has now reinvented itself as a hot bed for entrepreneurial activity in technology, biomedical, and higher ed innovation (led by Southern New Hampshire University and Alumni Ventures Group). These are three industries that lend themselves to the types of hard-working, mission-driven folks who occupy southern New Hampshire.
The role of large companies
During the event, I participated on a panel in which we discussed the effects that large companies can have on helping these types of ecosystems. Shelley McKinley, Head of Technology & Corp. Responsibility Group, Microsoft, said large companies can use their influence to work with governments, both federal and local, on laws and regulations that help startups and industries grow.
Kate Kaufman, Director of Account Operations, Uber Freight, discussed the amount of data that a company like Uber has access to. Their focus is to put that data in the hands of small businesses, allowing them access to information they historically didn’t have, which can help their businesses compete.
Startups rarely succeed on their own. They often need the collective resources of their communities. Embrace your community. Don’t try to change it. If you can find a niche that makes sense for the talent that already exists in your community, then both your startup and your whole entrepreneurial ecosystem have a chance to do something great.
Kyle York is VP of product strategy for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.