Creative Collision in the Startup Ecosystem


Pink'n'blue by futhark, on Flickr

Let’s collide, thrive.


[Editor note: This post is related to the article "Going #Badgeless at SXSW" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

What a last few weeks. I live in the Silicon Prairie. Home to many new upstart software companies within the Omaha-Des Moines-Kansas City triangle. It’s also home to the Kauffman Foundation. If you’re not familar with @KauffmanFDN, to use a college football analogy, they are a veritable “Entrepreneur U” for the World. It was a pleasure to be part of #GEWKC and all the events that took place. It got me thinking about creative collision and how important it is to building a thriving and sustaining community of innovation.

People who run in these startup circles will talk about Brad Feld’s new book “Startup Communities” and what he’s done with Tech Stars and the Boulder community. An exemplary case study. There was also a recent guest post by Phillip Rosedale in the Silicon Prairie News that essentially asked the question,  ’How can a tech ecosystem like Silicon Valley/San Francisco take hold in cities like Omaha, Des Moines, and Kansas City?’ The big takeaway for me is DENSITY. Not the sheer population size. That’s just false hope. But a higher concentration of the ecosystem components in a defined area. The area should not only be defined, but branded. Let creative collision ensue.

Here’s an all-time classic scene to get us started on the idea of density.

Density is EVERYTHING. And it could very well be your destiny, if you play your cards right. Here’s the deal. Nobody’s gonna fund a light rail project through a dead downtown. Nobody’s gonna eat in an empty restaurant. Nobody’s gonna join a movement if nobody knows about it. The capital will be there. Yes it will. So, continue to fill your community with entrepreneurs, connectors, and service providers. Make bold moves.


A curious, passionate bunch. Many have eschewed their corporate pedigree and aren’t looking back. Others are starting early, even skipping the traditional college-then-go-find-a-job plan. They seek comfort in ambiguity and risk taking. They are connectable. Meaning, they have a strong social API (Attitude Performance Index). All of these attributes are hard to find in one person in any community. So unique, and so vital. The DNA of this whole thing.

Action item for those still on the sidelines: Help cultivate and celebrate the entrepreneur ethos in children and young adults.


One of my former bosses used to always say “success breeds success.” I’ll take it a step further and say that successful people breed successful people. These breeders are the connectors, and they are everywhere. Some may never take the leap into the great unknown of entrepreneurland. But they’re ready and able to help you where they can.

Action item for those already embedded in a startup community: Get the word out to more  potential connectors about the opportunities that abound for them. Bring a non-startup person (whatever that means) to a startup event or scene.

Service Providers

Not everyone is a product person. Service providers above all else are about RELATIONSHIPS. In many cases, relationships your startup doesn’t have. They also have expertise you don’t have (yes, it’s true), and a healthy distance from your product that allows them to truly think outside of the box for you. They ARE outside of the box. And they should be valued higher in the ecosystem.

Action item for startups: Stop trying to do everything yourself and embrace the service providers in the ecosystem.

Let’s collide, thrive.

You’re a bank? Consider making a loan to “startups” that are actually making money right now. You’re a large employer in the region? Consider looking in your own backyard, and give that innovative upstart a REAL chance to earn your business as one of their first customers. (Best line of any panel this week, by the way.)

Oh, and thanks Google. Welcome to the Fiberhood!