Well, it’s official. The Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes is finally over and the winner(s) are New York City, Washington, DC, and Amazon itself of course (in reverse order). I offer my congratulations to both cities—this is a BIG win for both. Kudos to Amazon too—it couldn’t have chosen two better locations. And finally, I suppose some tip of the cap is in order to Jeff Bezos—the new King of Queens.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Nicolas Colin. I’ve been an admirer of his writing in the past, and we had a delightful conversation at one of my favorite breakfast spots in London. For those of you who don’t know, Nicolas is a co-founder of The Family, an early-stage investment firm started in Paris and now operating in London and Berlin.
He is also the author a new book Hedge: A Greater Safety Net for the Entrepreneurial Age, which I’m happy to have completed just this week. Hedge hits three important notes for me: it is meticulously researched (527 references! 😍), very well-written, and has a point of view that stands out from the others.
Last week, Endeavor Insight (the research arm of Endeavor Global) teamed up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to publish a new report on fostering productive startup communities. The report was authored by Rhett Morris and Lili Török of Endeavor, and I think it is one of the best pieces of empirical work I've ever seen on startup communities.
Canada, we increasingly hear, is becoming a global leader in high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship. Report after report has ranked Toronto, Waterloo and Vancouver among the world’s most up-and-coming tech hubs. Toronto placed fourth in a ranking of North American tech talent this past summer, behind only the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, and in 2017 its metro area added more tech jobs than those other three city-regions combined.
All of that is true, but the broader trends provide little reason for complacency. Indeed, our detailed analysis of more than 100,000 startup investments around the world paints a more sobering picture. Canada and its leading cities have seen a substantial rise in their venture capital investments. But both the country and its urban centres have lost ground to global competitors, even as the United States’ position in global start-ups has faltered.
On October 1st, New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy announced a $500 million plan to increase venture capital investment in the state. The move is motivated by New Jersey’s decline (relative to other states) in venture capital investment the last decade, and his belief that an expansion of publicly-subsidized venture capital pools will help turn things around.
Information on the plan is still sparse and there are a lot of details that need filling in. But that’s precisely why we’re speaking up now. The details really matter here—history is littered with failed government venture capital programs that didn’t get the specifics right. So, Governor Murphy, if you’re listening, we’d like to share some ideas with you as your plan begins to take shape.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the declining number of early-stage venture deals and in the number of startups entering the venture-backed pipeline in the United States. As I think about the overall health of American entrepreneurship, this development raises some questions. Is the early-stage decline driven by factors on the supply-side (investors) or the demand-side (startups)? Or is it both? Does it reflect an overheated market simply returning to normal, or are other factors at play? As one example, is this evidence of winner-take-all markets, whereby fewer startups get funded, but those that do raise ever more capital? Is it something else? Is it all of these things? And, should this concern us?
A friend recently pointed me to a July study by Oliver Wyman titled Assessing the Impact of Big Tech on Venture Investment. I was immediately intrigued because this is a question I’m asked all the time and one for which I don’t have a good answer. On the one hand, I see how platform giants could expand startup activity because they seed an ecosystem, improve labor quality, and provide capital (as customers, investors, and acquirers). On the other hand, I see how their sheer dominance—and the ability to leverage their power into adjacent markets by favoring their own content or wares—makes it difficult to compete in their space. In fact, reporters have told me that most VCs won’t touch startups operating anywhere near these companies’ orbits, a phenomenon that is apparently so common it’s been given a nickname: “kill-zones”. I took a close look at the numbers to try and figure out what’s going on.
America still leads the world in innovative start-ups, but other countries are gaining fast. If we don’t act, the next big thing will come from Beijing or Berlin.
Today I have a major new study out for the Center for American Entrepreneurship, called Rise of the Global Startup City: The New Map of Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital. The report is the culmination of months of work that my co-author, Richard Florida, and I have been toiling away at, and we are really happy to be sharing it today.
Writing a book is a very hard thing. It's one of the hardest things I've done professionally. It is the nonlinearity of the process that makes it so difficult and the sheer perseverance that's required. It's remarkable to see how different the content is today compared with where it was on day one.
Part of the process means writing a lot of words that no one will ever see. I have written literally tens of thousands of words—several complete chapters even—that will never see the light of day. I was going through one of those today and decided I will publish it here. It is a brief summary of Brad's book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, meant to be a refresher for those familiar with the material and to quickly get newcomers up to speed. I also added layers of my own context, data points, and interpretation.
We've heard it in startup communities everywhere—while it's become increasingly likely for high-potential companies to get started most anywhere, the best ones often leave for Silicon Valley. One of the most commonly-cited reasons is that Valley investors require companies to move. That may be true, but perhaps it's for a much bigger reason—because doing so is beneficial for these companies. But, what do the data say? Jorge Guzman of Columbia University attempted to answer this question in a research paper: Go West Young Firm: The Value of Entrepreneurial Migration for Startups and Their Founders. Here’s what he found.
Two weeks ago, I published a study for the Center for American Entrepreneurship titled America's Rising Startup Communities. The study looked at the growth and geography of venture capital first financings across U.S. metropolitan areas between 2009 and 2017. One of the biggest questions that's come out of that work is: "what's happening beyond first financings?" This post is the first of at least two that will begin to address that question. Here I will look at national trends, and in a later post, I will examine geography of follow-on investments.
Startup communities are examples of complex adaptive systems. This means many things for understanding and influencing their behavior, but today I want to focus on two concepts: non-linearity (the sum is greater than the parts) and synergistic integration (interaction between the parts matters a lot). To make my point, I’ll draw on an example from my favorite sport.
In the last couple of weeks, the subject of Canada as a rising startup and tech hub has been seemingly everywhere in my news feed. Much of discussion about Canada has focused on Toronto and Vancouver, and to a lesser extent Montreal (where Techstars is opening a new accelerator, one year after launching in Toronto). And that’s for good measure—these are far and away the leading hubs of startup activity in Canada.
But, I’d like to talk about another northern star that shouldn’t be left out from the discussion: Kitchener-Waterloo.
I'm an introvert. I didn't know that for a very long time, but it turns out to be true. It surprises most people I know well when I say that because they find me to be engaging and social. But, introverts are not necessarily anti-social. Rather, introverts are energized by solitude and drained by crowds. Extroverts are the opposite. I'm at my best in small groups—anything above six to ten or so brings out the introvert in me. This is less true in social settings; more so in professional ones.
Last week I was at a conference—the type of environment my introverted self really likes to come out. It was an excellent conference and the people I met are amazing. But, big conferences can wear me down, and the productivity guilt and self-doubt associated with not wanting to be a power networker starts to creep in.
I'm not a power networker and I'm ready to own that. I am committed to doing more of it, but I can only push that so far. I also know there is another path.
Last week, the European Investment Fund—the small business investment arm of the European Union—announced a new $2.6 billion fund-of-funds to support venture capital deployment in the continent. The EIF is already the most active LP in European venture funds by a long shot.
That got me to thinking: is this the best way to stimulate startup activity in the EU? Is a lack of venture capital the biggest constraint facing European startups right now? If so, is this the right way to go about it? How else could that money have been used? What is the opportunity cost?
To me, it is another reminder of something that I’m seeing in startup communities everywhere: what I’m calling The More of Everything Problem.
I'm currently doing some research that will detail global venture capital flows. My co-author and I are observing some very large deals in the last few years that skew the overall numbers. These deals are emanating from two places—China and the United States. Interestingly, a relatively small number of companies seem to be driving overall venture capital investment in China, whereas the same is not true of the US.
I’m currently working with Brad Feld on a sequel to his 2012 paradigm shifting book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. Last week, I wrote about behavior and mindset in a startup community, and think one of the points we’re making—about cooperation and playing positive sum games—is worth sharing here. Not only do cooperative strategies in startup communities make intuitive sense, but there is also a fair amount of supporting evidence. In fact, even a Nobel Prize was awarded for ideas that support the central thesis behind startup communities.
A New York Times article published yesterday declares that “Silicon Valley is Over.” This follows a recent Wired article declaring that “Everyone Hates Silicon Valley.” While this does make for great journalism, I worry that it sets a unrealistic expectations in other parts of the country. Silicon Valley is not over—not even close. And when you suggest that it is, it implies a Silicon Valley’s downfall will be a big win for everyone else. That’s zero-sum thinking and I don’t agree with it.
Will Generation Z, which has lived through the Iraq war, the financial crisis, police brutality, mass shootings, rising cost of education, and Donald Trump, be a generation of entrepreneurs? Will they use their creative instincts, technological savvy, and a distrust of the established order to bring radical change to our business and social sectors? These are the right conditions for creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship to flourish.