Do you have a startup community where you live? Are you interested in learning about how to build one or better support the startup community your town already has?
Startup communities can be vital to the growth of the local tech economy.
In this interview with Espree Devora, the host of the WeAreLATech podcast you will learn about how her startup community thrived and what tips we can use for our own town.
1) I think many of us can imagine the value of a startup community. However, I am sure that those intimately involved, such as yourself, may have more profound realizations on how it can change the local landscape. What surprising or unexpected outcomes can you share about the value of a vibrant startup community?
It’s fascinating to watch a startup community go from not existing to being a dominant attraction inspiring people to move to a city, in this case Los Angeles. I see community as always being there, just no one taking the time to bring the humans together.
In the case of LA, the first person to help in that journey, to uniting the community, was Cam Kashani, the co founder of a Santa Monica co working space called CoLoft, founded in 2009. CoLoft put community first and profit second.
She hosted many inspiring events with well known speakers from the popular author Eric Ries with the book “Lean Startup” to TED speaker Simon Sinek well known for his book and message “Start with Why“.
These events, fully equipped with pizza and beer, became a hub for local engineers, founders, investors and startup professionals to mix and mingle with a sense of ease and connectivity. Cam planted the seed to make the Los Angeles tech eco system what it is today, the top 3rd city in the world to build a startup.
LA in particular is well known for a city of collaboration. That being said, a downside of becoming a top tech city is it means real estate and rental prices go up too. Startups influence local economies and their mere existence begins to price people out of what they once could afford.
Globally the tech culture is seen as affluent dripping in wealth, despite our reality of a daily ramen, so landlords and property owners see it as their chance to cash in. It’s unfortunate. There’s both good and bad about becoming a reputable tech city.
Overall the top positive outcomes that come from a vibrant startup community are quality networking and being in a growth minded atmosphere to help fuel the hustle.
2) Let’s say someone lives in a town with no current clear startup community hub or incubator or any kind. What is the first step? I assume verifying that there are enough people to support it? Or can a “build it and they will come” scenario work?
If there’s no startup hub or community the firsts steps to build one are to plant the seeds for a hub. You never know how many people in town are interested until there’s a place for them to connect and engage with other like-minded people.
This question reminds me of Bratislava, Slovakia. There was this amazing coffee house in Bratislava, super modern, poppy colors and startup-esque vibe. The venue attracted the right culture to bring people together in 2013 when startups weren’t thriving there, now there are a handful of co working spaces.
In LA before there was a proper tech hub there were 20 of us hanging out at one of our homes for BBQ tech get-togethers. When CoLoft was created the 20 of us multiplied to eventually become the tech hub we are today. It’s all taking it one day at a time, one year at a time, and leading for the right reasons.
Building my organization WeAreLATech is far from easy. I don’t do it to capitalize, I don’t do it for recognition, I do it because I believe in the mission, in its purpose to create unity amongst a spread out scattered city.
My hope is that sustainability and profit will follow so I can continue to better serve the community, but it’s not my Why — therefore it’s purpose gives me the energetic fuel I need to keep on going day after day.
Back in 2009 that person building community in Los Angeles was Cam Kashani who I mentioned earlier. The first step to start a tech hub is a person driven by heart who is community minded and a consistent comfortable venue for people in the community come together to connect IRL (in real life).
3) CoLoft seemed like such a cool and inspiring place. I remember being surprised when I learned it closed down about a year ago. Are there any there any lessons to be learned here with operating a co-working space?
Unfortunately it was politics that closed down CoLoft and by that time Cam was actually no longer involved in the business nor an owner. She was the heart of the place so when she was no longer there the community within CoLoft started to fade.
The important lesson is a community aka co working space doesn’t run on it’s own.
There must be a key organizer drumming up energy and connections, almost a cheerleader, to continue to facilitate relationships being created and drive momentum forward. Community members spirit and champion the message, but it’s the community key leader who drives the entire movement.
4) So let’s say I have decided to move forward in starting my local startup hub. I need a space to do it. Should I be reaching out to the local chamber of commerce? Might there be some tax breaks or incentives to consider? What are the first steps?
A local startup hub can start anywhere venue wise from a co working space to partnering with an existing community driven company and borrowing their office area.
Everyone wants to be plugged into the tech culture so don’t pay for space (since you probably don’t have those types of funds anyhow), focus on who to partner with or simply kick things off in a coffee shop.
For the LA Podcasters Meetup I organize I meet with them in a patio area at 18th Street Cafe in Santa Monica, for the LA Tech community that sparked off at CoLoft co-working space.
In some cities there are incentives like in Downtown Los Angeles they give free space to startups that meet certain criteria so maybe you can partner with the city itself and utilize their resources.
Be creative. DON’T SPEND MONEY.
Find food and beverage partners who believe in what you’re doing to contribute drinks and snacks or maybe a credit at their coffee house. Or inquire with established businesses looking to give back and they’ll invest a small sponsorship to fund the pizza and beer nights you organize.
In 2008, four years before LA Tech started to makes global news as a startup city to pay attention to, our community hub was a friend’s Venice beach apartment doing BBQs. Being formal isn’t key, having a mission and consistency is.
Here’s an old blog post I wrote about my experience back in 2008 diving into why finding that small intimate LA Tech community meant everything to me and helped propel me forward as an entrepreneur.