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A New National Network of Startup Communities

startupamericaWhen I first wrote about the non-profit Startup America Partnership in early 2011 (Why You Should Join Startup America), it had just launched with much fanfare and a lofty mission of helping to inspire and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship in the U.S.  It was announced at the White House, although it’s not a government program and receives no government funding.

Back then, I said, “Any business owner or entrepreneur – from startup (newly created), to ramp-up (initial growth stage), to speedup (going like gang busters) – should be ready to tap this free resource when the help starts flowing.”

Well, the help is flowing freely and my original advice holds:  If you are in or around the startup space, getting involved with Startup America in your area will be well worth your while. (To join the network, go here and select your state or region.)

Startup America has quickly evolved from a kind of resources clearinghouse into a fast-growing national network of local and regional startup communities. Its leaders quickly recognized that to be effective at serving entrepreneurs who exist everywhere in different industries with wildly different needs, it had to do it region by region, state by state, city by city. Too many entrepreneurs are disconnected from each other; from their communities; from their towns, cities and states; from potential customers, funders and talent; and from the resources that could help them.

Building a National Network

Startup America aims to help by developing a national network of startup communities that include mentors, role models and fellow entrepreneurs who can sustain and validate each other. It is creating visible networks so that a startup in one city can be connected to other startups and leaders in that city, as well as to those in adjacent cities and to the entire country.

So far, Startup America has grown to nearly 12,000 members (you can view the member directory here).  Here’s an interesting breakdown of Startup America membership by state. Also check out dozens of helpful webinars available on the website.

California, which (as you might expect) has the largest member count of any state, is home to one of the most advanced regional initiatives and has a super-helpful website chock full of startup resources. These include places to find capital, mentors and crowd funding, among others.

(Note: BizBest’s Silicon Beach shortLIST has details on the startup community in Southern California, considered one of the fastest growing and most dynamic worldwide.)

State Experiences

Here’s what some of the regional Startup America leaders had to say recently about their unique startup environment, goals and challenges:

  • Florida is awash in high net worth capital, but the rich are not used to investing in startups. The state’s most talented entrepreneurs often leave for startup hubs in Boston, North Carolina, Austin, and Silicon Valley. There are 430,000 micro-businesses, with one to nine employees, which need help scaling.
  • Iowa said it had a good community of startups in IT, software, biosciences, and materials. The challenge was finding them all and getting them to venture out of their silos. There is enough venture capital money for rounds of $250,000 and up, but little for seed rounds of much less.
  •  Nebraska’s challenge was “to be identified by more people on a map.” It finds it hard to attract and retain talent, from developers to marketing and sales. It works closely with Iowa to create an easily identifiable Silicon Prairie region.
  • Texas has a lot of venture-ready money, but struggles to get it into the hands of entrepreneurs. The startup communities are based around cities—Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso—rather than statewide. Collaborating between these city-based communities is difficult.
  • Connecticut has money but no sense of a startup community. Everyone working to support startups is working separately. The state is attempting to create what it calls a “greased-skid system” of innovation clusters.
  • Massachusetts’ problem was “having too much” and getting the different organizations and people to collaborate. It wanted to expand the startup community beyond Boston to less-dynamic parts of the state and keep students in the state after graduating from Massachusetts’ many colleges.
  • Colorado’s plan was to use the success of its startup community in Boulder as a model for Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs, and to build deeper links between different industries.
  • Virginia said that it had very strong technology pockets, as well as some of the wealthiest and poorest parts of the country. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) spends a lot of its money in northern Virginia, but other parts of the state struggle economically. Many organizations claim to help entrepreneurs, but they are highly fragmented with no central authority. The main challenge was pulling together the various parts of Virginia into one startup community.
  • Maryland boasted of plenty of government support and interest in startups from the governor’s office down. The challenge was in catalyzing the state’s entrepreneurial spirit. A startup bus has driven around the state, inviting people to come aboard and pitch, garnering significant media attention.
  • Indiana called its startup community an “uprising.” In Indianapolis, there’s Developertown, raw office space where developers can build and park their own structures. What entrepreneurs needed was to be “less aw-shucks and modest.”

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Why You Should Join Startup America Partnership

The Startup America Partnership is new and largely unknown, but this independent, private-sector coalition of corporate tech titans, advisors, financing firms, mentors and sundry service providers won’t be undiscovered for long.  Any business owner or entrepreneur – from startup (newly created), to rampup (initial growth stage), to speedup (going like gang busters) – should be ready to tap this free resource when the help starts flowing.

The way in will be through a free Startup America membership (via application) that isn’t yet available, but will be soon.  So sign up now to be notified by email when details on the membership application process are released.    

The group’s mission is mighty:  To inspire and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship in the U.S. with services, product discounts, special access, resources, connections and “insider information” from a start-studded lineup of business power hitters.   It’s not a loan or grant program, do ditch that thought. Because Startup America is still starting up itself, most of what’s coming is still in development.  But here’s a sampling of what’s coming:   

  • Google will provide up to $100 million worth of online advertising to Startup America Partnership member companies to over the next year.
  • Intuit will offer special discounts on its flagship products and services, including QuickBooks Online, Intuit Payroll Services, QuickBooks Merchant Services and Intuit Websites. Value: $37 million
  • Angel Capital Association (ACA) and Angel Resource Institute (ARI) will double the number of high caliber investors in angel groups across the country, increasing annual investment by $1 billion.  Qualifying Startup America Partnership member companies will be matched with angel investor mentors to build their success in starting and growing their businesses.
  • Salesforce.com will provide products and technology to power Startup America Partnership member companies. This includes CRM, a collaboration platform, a resource catalog built on Force.com, and a workflow engine to connect entrepreneurs with resources from private-sector partners.    
  • The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) will create the NVCA / Startup America Partnership Network, providing access to its 400 venture capital firms, 4,000 investors and thousands of venture-backed company CEOs via events around the country; and will provide access to StartUpHire.com, a free online jobs board for member companies.
  • American Express OPEN will provide special access and advantaged pricing for products and services to help businesses attract and retain customers and improve cash flow. Estimated value: $125 million
  • Cisco will provide training (through intermediaries trained and supported by Cisco) to approximately 6,000 entrepreneurs within 50 cities by January 2014.  Estimated value: $3 million.
  • Ernst & Young (EY) will provide access to EY professionals and the firm’s Entrepreneur Of The Year (EOY) network as advisors and mentors, plus on-line resources and other analytical tools.  Estimated value: $7.5 million.
  • First Data, a major electronic commerce and payment processing firm, will offer discounts on processing services including credit and debit acceptance as well as point-of-sale terminals to Startup America Partnership member companies.
  • HP will offer discounts on laptops, desktops, workstations, Palm smart phones, tablets, printers, wireless routers, servers and more to Partnership members.  Estimated savings for startups will be $100 million over three years.   
  • IndieGoGo, a platform for raising money online via “crowd sourcing,” will offer a 50% discount on campaign fees on the site and feature members on the company’s website.
  • LinkedIn will provide a special platform for Startup America members to build an identity and grow a network. LinkedIn will also contribute training, services, and products to members.
  • Microsoft will offer its BizSpark program to all qualified software startups.  BizSpark provides access to Microsoft software free for three years including support, training and access to Windows Azure, Microsoft’s Cloud Services Platform.  Participants are also connected to a global network of 700,000 mentors, partners and investors. 

AOL co-founder Steve Case chairs the partnership and the Kauffman and Case Foundations are founding partners, providing initial funding and strategic guidance.  

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