Stop beating yourself up, Boston

Stop beating yourself up, Boston

Right after Mark Zuckerberg was named Time’s Person of the Year, Boston Globe Columnist Steve Syre penned an article lamenting the loss of Zuckerberg and other top tech talent to California.  The article talked about a handful of individual entrepreneurs who have studied at one of Boston’s prestigious schools and then moved their companies to (or near) silicon valley.  There are plenty of Pittsburgh examples as well, the most recent example is Eric Koger and Susan Gregg-Koger.  The husband and wife team that founded ModCloth while students at CMU recently moved to San Francisco and took the official company headquarters of the #2 company on the Inc. 500 with them.

The problem is the article (and the mentality it advocates) look at the problem all wrong.  Sure it is great to find a pillar of the start-up community, an entrepreneur or VC or Super Angel who will establish roots and never leave, but these are rare.  The vast majority of people in a start-up community are there temporarily.  There are more then a few examples of people who have left silicon valley to start successful ventures in other places, do you think the startup community there goes in to a panic with each one?   Of course not, there are always more where they came from.

If Pittsburgh, Boston, NYC and others are going to grow in to mature startup communities it will be by encouraging the mobility of entrepreneurs and their companies.  The more geographically mobile the national and international entrepreneurial community is, the lower the barriers to entry for becoming an entrepreneurial center.  Instead of worrying about individual entrepreneurs leaving town, startup communiteis outside the valley should focus on attracting new companies and giving them the resources they need to either stay or go.

In order to be a net winner in this world of mobile companies and entrepreneurs, the Pittsburgh region must do three things:

  1. Make sure that the resources that the startup community offers its companies are competitive.  This will keep startups from being FORCED to move to attract funding or talent.  Some companies will still move, but we need to ensure that they don’t HAVE to.
  2. Ensure that while the startup is in the city, the company and the entrepreneur have a relationship with the startup community.  This relationship should result in benefit for both parties, with the community providing easy access to the connections and resources the entrepreneur needs and the entrepreneur providing the insight and creativity every startup community needs.  If Pittsburgh can’t establish this relationship with its entrepreneurs, who can blame them for leaving?
  3. Find a few pillars of the startup community (both individual and institutional) who can provide continuity as entrepreneurs and companies come and go.  These leaders and tools must be mechanisms for new companies to meet the talent and funding the old companies left behind.