Startups in Non-Traditional Places


Conrad Farm Tim Spaulding who runs LibraryThing, a startup in Portland...Maine asked me on Twitter if I had any thoughts on startups in non-traditional places.

The short answer is I've always got thoughts, but I'm not sure how relevant the are. The truth is that while the Wasatch Front isn't Silicon Valley by any stretch, it's got a thriving high-tech community, thousands of software developers working at hundreds of companies, a nascent, but active angel investment community, three strong universities pumping out graduates and ideas, and ahost of support services including legal and PR that understand high-tech business. Just looking at the Utah Tech Events calendar shows that there's things happening here. That puts the Wasatch Front in league with Portland OR or Boulder CO as a thriving tech community that lives outside, but in the orbit of, Silicon Valley.

I'm grateful everyday to have landed in an area that has the support structure that we have in the Wasatch Front. We've leveraged the developer community a great deal in Kynetx with our Free Lunch Fridays, conferences, and developer days. Kynetx has had to raise less money and grown faster because of the support that we get from the local tech community.

Last summer (or was it two summers ago?), Marc Cantor and his family stopped and had lunch with me as he was moving from California to Ohio to "reboot" the region and himself:

There would not be enough space in our print newspaper for me to fully explain what Canter has in mind. So let me take some liberties and boil it down: He plans to reinvent work-force development, by constructing a system that takes unemployed people and teaches them a host of multimedia skills to fill the demand for online video that he sees coming. The plan involves creating a large nonprofit, a new private company, raising millions in grants and private equity, and getting an entire region that has no idea who he is to buy into it.
From Marc's Voice » Valley's one-time godfather of multimedia is leaving for Ohio
Referenced Tue Oct 12 2010 08:58:44 GMT-0600 (MDT)

After he left, I remember remarking to Steve Fulling who came to lunch with us that this was a tough row Marc had chosen to hoe. Even with good universities (which Ohio has), getting the infrastructure built to the point where it's self sustaining is a long haul. Utah has been on this road for 30 years (since IOmega, WordPerfect, and Novell were birthed in the PC revolution). There aren't any shortcuts that I know of.

I think high-tech companies in non-traditional markets have to be prepared to work more at building community and be willing to travel more to get to the places where the tech is. Of course, these companies aren't in business to build a high-tech ecosystem, but I think their efforts in those areas will get payed back. Start simle--sponsor a lunch once a month or something and get people meeting and talking. For example, I started the CTO Breakfast 6 or 7 years ago as a way to get people talking and it's been a lot of fun.

Spend time at the local colleges and universities fostering relationtions with the faculty and students. Hiring in a non-traditional area is one of the hardest things to do.

RightNow Technologies founder Greg Gianforte started his very successful company in Bozeman MT because he wanted to live there. He wrote a book that documents some of his lessons learned: Bootstrapping Your Business: Start And Grow a Successful Company With Almost No Money and started Bootstrap Montana.

Omniture Founder Josh James "decided to initiate a branding campaign for Utah's tech community in the form of Silicon Slopes."

So, as I said, a lot of thoughts, but no silver bullet. Anyone have other tips or ideas about starting high-tech businesses in decidedly low-tech areas?