As a venture development organization (VDO) based in Northeast Ohio, we at JumpStart often get asked why entrepreneurs in fly-over regions like ours face more challenges than they do on the coasts.
In fact, we get this question so often that we sat down and made this short video, telling the story using a very simple analogy: riding a bicycle.
Of course, simple analogies only go so far. Building a startup venture from scratch is a lot more complicated than learning to pedal a bike. What attracted us to the comparison was one simple question: How do people actually learn to do either one?
Learning Takes Teachers
Somewhere in the world there are children who learned to ride a bicycle without any help — they just hopped on and started peddling like they were born to do it. There are also special entrepreneurs who hit home runs without so much as a mentor to assist them.
These people exist, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Most of us have help. The vast majority of children learn how to ride a bike from adults, who were taught by other adults when they were young. Likewise, most entrepreneurs learn how to succeed by watching and listening to people who’ve been where they are trying to go; and in the Midwest, there aren’t nearly as many of these experienced teachers as there are in Silicon Valley.
Teaching Takes Experience
It wasn’t always this way. More than a century ago, Midwestern oil, steel and automotive industries were the envy of the modern world. It’s hard to imagine these behemoths as anything but what they are today, but it’s important to remember that they were once startups, launched by entrepreneurs who took enormous risks (supposedly, Cleveland was home to more of these “startup” millionaires than any other city in the world in the 1890s, due primarily to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil).
Eventually these entrepreneurs came to dominate not only their markets but the entire 20th-century economy. Therein lies the irony. So complete was their domination that generations of Americans grew up without the need or motivation to become entrepreneurs themselves. Good jobs were waiting for anyone willing to work hard — jobs that could support families, homes and an entire middle class.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and our industrial economy is looking every bit its age when it comes to startup entrepreneurship. Therefore, there is an enormous need for a new spark of innovation and disruptive new business, but there aren’t a lot of people away from the coasts who have the experience necessary to “ride” the proverbial bike, let alone teach others.
Traditional economic development organizations (EDOs) have done their best to adapt, but many of their models were designed for a different time — when prosperity meant supporting (or attracting) large existing businesses, not helping people start new ones.
VDO’s like JumpStart were created for exactly this reason. The goal is to combine the investment capabilities of a venture capital firm with the technical services of a modern economic development agency, creating an organization that can help a new generation of entrepreneurs build the experience and gather the funding they need to get on the bike and start pedaling.
Experience Takes Time
The venture development model works; but it takes time to develop a new generation of entrepreneurs, and even more time for these entrepreneurs to grow their young ventures into the kinds of profitable companies that create jobs and economic growth.
In Northeast Ohio, a decade of work has helped our ecosystem grow stronger than it has been in generations. Hometown ventures are making national news, and venture capitalists are making comparisons between Ohio today and Silicon Valley in 1975.
No one person or organization can achieve these kinds of results on their own; and it can’t be done overnight. It takes a patient, collaborative community to achieve lasting results. This is a core concept of our success in Northeast Ohio that has now carried over to our work with people and organizations outside our hometown — places like Detroit, Buffalo, Memphis, St. Louis and many others.
Ultimately, we believe the entrepreneurs we help today will create the next great wave of innovation and economic growth in the U.S.
It’s just like riding a bike. Once you learn how, you never forget.