How Startup Cultures Are Formed

By Rob White

While reading a recent article by David Lumb on the Fast Company website titled “The Recipe for Building a Startup Scene in Any City” I was encouraged to find many of the ingredients listed were in progress in Davis.

In the article, Lumb highlights the work by Tyler Crowley, who is widely recognized as the catalyst for startup communities in places like Los Angeles, London and now Stockholm. Lumb points out that “Crowley has devised a not-so-secret recipe for creating startup neighborhoods from scratch.”

It is Lumb’s position that according to Crowley, “there are four things that need to be in place in order to build a startup scene. The first is a venue that is cheap and central, where meetups can take place. The second is a monthly event where all of the startups gather. The third is an established hashtag everyone in the community can use to share photos and event info. And finally, a coworking space that is open 24/7 so that when an outsider lands in the city, they have a place to go and meet tons of people in the scene.”

Lumb goes on to point out that “this recipe establishes a tech community and helps them market their accomplishments to the outside world, creating a narrative of a cohesive and collaborative local scene that journalists, politicians, and investors can follow.”

Crowley’s model for success was first achieved in Los Angeles’ now famous Silicon Beach in 2007. According to the article, “Sequoia Capital and many other venture capitalists at the time wanted the companies they invested in to be based in Silicon Valley. Crowley was down in Los Angeles” at the startup Mahalo.com, and “when the company got the financial nod from Sequoia and others,” the founders refused to move to Silicon Valley.

“Instead, they decided to build their own version of the Valley. After raising $20 million, Mahalo moved to Santa Monica and started hosting meetups in their office. The company needed developers, and hosting meetups was the best way to find them.”

Crowley explains “so our strategy was to go on places like Meetup.com, get all the Python, Django, and Ruby developers and say ‘Hey, we’ve got an amazing venue in Santa Monica, we’ve got free parking, and I’ll throw in beers and pizza and a projector. Within six to eight months, all the tech meetups were happening out of our offices every day around 6 p.m. It was a really organic process. We didn’t know we were building Silicon Beach at the time.”

Interestingly, Lumb notes that Crowley credits social media for playing a role in further developing the startup culture. As describ3ed by Lumb, “Twitter, the social media titan, had just launched in 2007 and the Silicon Beach community jumped on it. When more and more friends left L.A. for the Bay Area after securing funding, Crowley and his friends got fed up and used Twitter to fight back. They started using a hashtag and posting photos of the nightly events taking place in L.A. Then someone started holding a monthly event, a get-together that aimed to bring everyone from the smaller niche events into one space.”

“Within a year there was a coworking space, a meetup venue, a monthly meetup, and a hashtag. Silicon Beach was off to the races,” notes Lumb.

The article goes on to detail additional success by Crowley in London and work now in Stockholm. The article is well worth a read and demonstrates the length of time it takes to accomplish the effort of facilitating and nurturing a startup culture. But the big takeaway of how Davis can model after the work that Crowley is doing in Stockholm now, comes a bullet list of four things noted in the article:

  • Hold a monthly event showcasing new companies and sharing positions needing to be filled at local companies;
  • Hold an annual two-day conference to amplify the monthly event with educational sessions and high-profile visitors;
  • Hold a 48-hour hackathon every quarter to raise community spirits with friendly competition and that will showcase ingenuity; and
  • Hold several low-key weekly meetups, including having startups open their offices to the community, coffee “office hours,” and lunchtime CEO meetups.

As you can see, some of these activities are currently being done in Davis by a variety of groups, including (but not limited to) Davis Roots, UC Davis, Green Drinks, the Davis Chamber of Commerce, Davis Downtown Association, the City and the newly formed JumpStart Davis.

But one thing is evident in the article and from many other resources and articles that detail how startup cultures are facilitated: though a few people might catalyze the beginning of the effort, it takes many people joining in to create critical mass.

By collaboratively working together as community partners, each person and organization doing what it can to encourage the efforts of creating innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, we will continue to see our startup culture blossom and grow. Which can undoubtedly lead to new opportunities, employment, investments and ultimately a rich environment of economic vitality.

I look forward to your thoughts and input. My email is rwhite@cityofdavis.org if you choose to email me directly or you can follow me on Twitter @mrobertwhite.

About The Author

Rob White is the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Davis and was selected as a 2012 White House Champion of Change for Local Innovation. He serves as an ex-officio Board Member for techDAVIS (a local tech entrepreneur industry group), as an executive Board Member for the Innovate North State iHub, and as a Board Member for Hacker Lab and the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation. He is a candidate for the Doctorate in Policy, Planning and Development from the University of Southern California and has a Masters from USC in Planning and Development and a Bachelors of Science in Geology from Chico State.

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8 Comments

  1. DT Businessman

    Pizza and beer?  That ain’t working.  How about cocktails and Thai appetizers at discount prices?  Great opportunity for a segue, thanks Robb!

    Jumpstart Davis Cocktail Hour
    On November 19th at 6:30pm, Sophia’s Thai Kitchen will be hosting the first “Jumpstart Davis” networking event, a monthly mixer designed to strengthen and encourage the local startup community.  The event will bring together entrepreneurs from all walks of life.
    “Jumpstart Davis”, a spontaneous grassroots effort, firmly believes Davis has all the ingredients necessary to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. “Jumpstart Davis” is one small part of a growing network of organizations who understand that the key to vibrant local economies are homegrown startups.
     
    Have questions about the event or wish to join the effort?  Contact Bill Habicht (bill@dccpres.org), Alex Rossbach (arossbach@davisroots.org), Michael Bisch (michael@davisproperty.com) or Daniel Parrella (danielfordavis@gmail.com).

    1. Tia Will

      I have a question. And if I have it, I suspect it may be on the minds of others as well. So I will ask in open forum instead of contacting one of the individuals named.

      I have never been involved in a small start up ( unless you count selling berries from my yard and neighborhood to the local mom and pop store). I have not been involved in any small business. And, I am very, very curious about the workings of these enterprises. Is there a place for the intensely curious only at such an event ?

      1. Bill

        Tia, it’d be great to have you join us!  It’s not about any one person having the keys to making Davis a true innovation ecosystem.  It’s about accessing the creative-cognitive surplus of the community… anyone who wants to participate.

  2. Tia Will

    Rob

    For those of us who are new to this, perhaps you could flesh out this statement:

    “Which can undoubtedly lead to new opportunities, employment, investments and ultimately a rich environment of economic vitality.”

    with some actual data on how “Silicon Beach” actually affected the surrounding community ? Both positive and negative effects would be much appreciated.

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