A realistic, but aggressive, goal for Houston would be around a 15 percent year-on-year increase in growth venture capital. This would allow Houston to reach roughly $170 million in growth venture capital by 2022.
According to the report, “Houston would then likely become a top 25 U.S. city for high-growth, high-technology startups, though its ecosystem would still be emerging and startups would remain a very small part of Houston’s economy.”
In the past few decades, there has been a decline in manufacturing jobs in the United States. Companies have been able to produce goods abroad at a cheaper price due to lower labor costs in developing countries.
Incubators are crucial to the revitalization of U.S. manufacturing. The Fulton-Carroll Center Incubator in Chicago is one of the largest and first manufacturing incubators in the nation. It was established in 1980 with $2.6 million in grants from the federal government. In 2015, the city of Seattle awarded the Industry Space Seattle, a manufacturing incubator started by Johnny Bianchi in 2015, a grant of $100,000.
Traditional startup incubators provide office space, network access and business advice for tech companies developing things like software and apps. Startups usually pay a monthly/annual membership fee, or pay monthly rent at a rate determined by the incubator. The rent is usually slightly more expensive than what companies need to pay to get a similar office in the same area. However, extra value comes from access to the incubator’s resources. Costs are shared among multiple startup companies, as well as by the incubator sponsor. Sponsors can be nonprofit or for-profit entities.
Incubators are perhaps even more important to the manufacturing industry than to the tech industry. Manufacturing firms require more expensive machines and tools, in addition to basic resources. Incubators that provide those technologies are especially important for manufacturing startups that aren’t ready to invest in their own infrastructure yet.
Chicago’s mHub, opened in March 2017, is an innovation center for physical product development and manufacturing. mHub is equipped with ten labs, including a 3D-printing lab, fabrication labs, electronics labs, plastic molding, textiles, welding and grinding, wood shop and wet lab. Overall, they provide a total of more than $2.5 million of prototyping and manufacturing equipment.
Industry Space Seattle gives its tenants the use of 10 overhead crane systems, which can cost up to $80,000 each, along with a $30,000 compressed-air system, a $20,000 forklift and an industrial paint booth.
MHub in Chicago
In addition to the machinery and tools, incubators provide manufacturing startups with general business resources. The Industry Space Seattle partners with Impact Washington. Impact Washington is a nonprofit that provides consulting services and business mentoring to fledgling manufacturers.
The Advance Business & Manufacturing Center Incubator, a program provided by the Greater Green Bay Chamber in Wisconsin since 1987, partners with local universities, who connect college students to startups when extra manpower is needed. When multiple firms work in close proximity, they share knowledge and inspire each other with ideas. The business networking at incubators can also foster collaboration and expansion.
Structures of Manufacturing Incubators
The sizes of manufacturing incubators can range from less than 100,000 square-foot to the size of a city block. On the smaller side, the Industry Space Seattle provides up the ten industrial working spaces, while mHub can serve hundreds of startups at one time.
Although these incubators provide machinery for manufacturing, not all of their client companies are in the manufacturing industry. Startups service companies, ranging from non-profits to law firms to consulting firms, can rent out only the office space at a cheaper price.
The up-front investment in a manufacturing incubator is expensive. Although most are sponsored by the government, there are individuals who started an incubator because they believe that incubators offer talented minds chances to succeed. Bianchi bought and renewed a building into Industry Space Seattle because “there’s a whole bunch of people operating out of garages trying to legitimize their business [and] it’s financially infeasible to grow them.” Elissa Bloom started a fashion incubator because “there’s so much talent in the city, but they’re not getting the know-how to run and launch a business.”
Trends and Barriers
The long-term trend in U.S. manufacturing is of more automation to increase productivity with fewer workers. This trend favors larger manufacturers who can afford the capital investment needed to remain competitive. In recent years though, technologies like 3D printing, CNC laser cutters and other CAD/CAM equipment, have reduced the price and time needed for prototyping and development. There are therefore now lower barriers to entry to new product development in manufacturing, providing firms have access to the necessary technologies.
Manufacturing incubators take advantage of economies of scope and scale by providing capital equipment to manufacturing startups. This works because a typical piece of equipment will be mostly idle even at a fairly large single firm. Manufacturing incubators have also borrowed some best practices from startup incubators. In particular, they often provide broader business services and access to networks.
However, manufacturing incubators are a recent phenomenon. They are still on their first evolutionary cycle and their funding is largely not tied to their performance. Startup ecosystem participants, by comparison, have now faced almost a decade of competitive pressures. Competitive pressures select business models and niches that are aligned with market needs. Manufacturing incubators will likely become more successful when they partner with industry incumbents. A first step towards this is to sponsored by local for-profit firms.
Entrepreneurship can spur economic growth and job creation. As a result, state and local governments are seeking ways to establish entrepreneurial ecosystems. One way to strengthen an ecosystem is to increase its social capital. Social capital is the networks of relationships among people who work in a particular field.
Lack of social capital is among the top reasons that nine out of ten startups fail. Money and skills are not enough for success in entrepreneurship. Aspiring entrepreneurs also need social capital, which along with financial and human capital, is essential to grow a business.
Human, Financial and Social Capital
It is useful to differentiate between human, financial and social capital. Human capital comprises the knowledge and skill sets that enable people to successfully create new enterprises (Davidsson and Honig 2003; Snell and Dean 1992). Financial capital is the funding needed to get a business off the ground, sustain growth and develop operations.
Human capital is further classified into general and specific capital. General capital is associated with education, which provides the knowledge and the skills to solve problems. Specific human capital refers to the know-how for entrepreneurial activities, which has few applications outside of this context (Becker 1975; Gimeno et al. 1997). An example of specific human capital is the previous startup experience demonstrated by serial entrepreneurs.
Financial capital is key for early-stage startups to fund their ventures. Personal funding, debt, equity, crowdfunding and grants are among the funding sources available for entrepreneurs.
In entrepreneurship, social capital refers to all the interpersonal and interorganizational relationships through which entrepreneurs have access to the resources needed to discover and exploit business opportunities and succeed (Davidsson and Honig 2003; Wiklund and Shepherd 2008).
Social capital is, in simple terms, equivalent to individual and community networks. Networks can have strong or weak ties. Strong ties occur between people or firms with a family, working or professional history. Through these ties, people tend to develop high levels of trust, and therefore, are willing to share more detailed information and are more apt to collaborate. Weak ties occur between people or firms working within different contexts or economic clusters where contact is sporadic. These ties provide access to new information and new contacts outside of existing networks.
Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between the three kinds of capital.
Why Is Social Capital the Key to Entrepreneurship?
The obstacles entrepreneurs encountered due to a lack of knowledge or skill and a lack of funding can be solved through social capital. Networks connect entrepreneurs to the right people who will provide information, collaboration and partnerships as well as access to financial resources.
Entrepreneurs with higher social capital have greater chances of getting funding for their ventures.
Fried and Hisrich (1994) noted that since investors receive multiple funding requests, social connections play a significant role in determining the allocation of capital. The findings show investors tend to finance the entrepreneurs and ventures they have heard about as part of their network.
Based on a study of 202 venture capitalists in the priming phase, Shane and Cable (2002) observed that direct and indirect links between entrepreneurs and investors have a positive impact on the selection of projects financed. Shane and Stuart (2002) also noted that social capital of company founders represents an important endowment for early-stage organizations.
Social capital can also increase the human capital of a venture since the network can further advance innovation by merging ideas from different individuals. Investment in social relationships leads to the creation of socially embedded resources that can be mobilized by individuals (Lin 1999). Assuming that the social resources of entrepreneurs are more important than the possession of personal resources, social capital assists in achieving financial and human capital objectives that would be otherwise difficult to obtain (Lin 1999).
Social Capital in Nascent versus Mature Ecosystems
The genesis of startup communities is fueled by entrepreneurs’ individual attributes, their human capital. A high-impact startup can find traditional financing, such as personal funds, loans or investment by friends and family, yet social capital may remain as a challenge. Startups founded in regions with poor infrastructure lack the agglomeration needed to transition their ideas into successful companies.
In the absence of a cohesive startup network, incubators and accelerators can serve as a substitute for entrepreneurs from regions with less social capital. Local stakeholders who sponsor and support these programs have an interest in strengthening entrepreneurship in their communities.
The presence of accelerators or incubators can bring the community together as a destination for entrepreneurship and bolster local social capital. A study by the University of South Wales notes accelerators’ direct impact on entrepreneurial skills for the start-ups supported by accelerators and their positive indirect impact on the broader ecosystem. Acs (2001) recognized that entrepreneurship can be more challenging in underdeveloped areas, given their remoteness, which limits their access to skilled labor, technology, capital and networks. The alliances built by accelerators and incubators are the strongest assets in ensuring sustainability and building an ecosystem.
Cities with mature ecosystems reflect strong social capital, which plays a major role in fostering entrepreneurship. Kwon et al. (2013) sees a community’s social context as a public good. In high-social capital communities, entrepreneurs are able to take advantage of high levels of community trust and well-being, as well as more robust social networks. Individuals who feel support from cohesive communities will experiment with innovative ideas.
Social capital theory explains the value of networks as an integral part of a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. Entrepreneurs need to increase social capital to increase funding and improve the human capital in their ventures.
As ecosystem actors come together to strengthen startup culture, communities should foster social capital through strong and weak ties. The Harvard Kennedy School’s Social Capital Building Toolkit is a valuable tool for understanding and creating social networks.
Washington, D.C. is known for its politicians and bureaucrats, but it’s also where the top-20 U.S. government contractors are based. In recent decades, high-tech, high-growth entrepreneurship has been on the rise in the U.S. capital. Startup ventures, coupled with a diverse economy, largely fueled by the federal government, have led D.C. to emerge as a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.
History of Entrepreneurship
The diversified needs of the federal government have led to a varied ecosystem. Feldman 2001 concludes that two unique conditions impacted the development of D.C.’s entrepreneurial culture: underemployed skilled labor caused by federal job cuts and the commercial exploitation of intellectual property rights from publicly funded research.
Changes in federal employment policy through the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 led the federal government to outsource goods and services in an effort to reduce civil service jobs.
The Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 created the Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) as a mechanism whereby nonfederal entities can collaborate with federal laboratories on research and development projects. CRADAs aim to promote technological competitiveness and technology transfer to marketable products.
Biotech found a partner in the federal government through CRADAs. Proximity to federal labs has created an important biotechnology cluster attracting Merck and Pfizer among others, as well as startups MedImmune and Human Genome Sciences, later acquired by GlaxoSmithKline.
Other notable startups that emerged under the public-private sector collaboration include Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, Inc. (SGT), who provides scientific and IT service solutions to a wide array of federal government agencies nationwide including NASA and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Government outsourcing opportunities benefitted the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry. The earliest ITC entrepreneurs were government contractors, who began working on ARPANET, the predecessor of the internet.
When the federal government removed the commercial restriction on the use of internet in 1989, former contractors became tech startups with ample opportunities to grow their ventures.
Resources in D.C.
AOL is a prominent ICT company launched in the D.C. metropolitan area during the 1990s dot-com boom. AOL is also credited for shaping the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Prior to its relocation to Manhattan, AOL funded Fishbowl Labs, a business incubator located at its Dulles campus. Fishbowl Labs provides resources to startups at no cost and a mentorship program through its employee network.
The company also invested in firms such as the D.C.-based tech hub incubator 1776. The incubator is modeled after 1871 in Chicago and the General Assembly incubator in New York. Notable companies currently working with 1776 include Babyscripts, Cowlar and MUrgency. 1776 organizes networking events for the government innovator community to promote the interconnectivity of startups and D.C.’s main consumer, the federal government.
Washington D.C.’s economy is stable and diverse. As of February 2017, the area had an unemployment rate of 2.5% and the gross product of the area was $471 billion in 2014, making it the sixth-largest U.S. metropolitan economy.
D.C.’s ecosystem has historically been linked to government agencies, but more recently, the startup community has had greater diversity. Notable startups out of D.C. include LivingSocial, iStrategyLabs and CoFoundersLab. Advertising company iStrategyLabs has created devices and advertising campaigns for 21 Fortune 500 companies. CoFoundersLab connects entrepreneurs via an online network.
The success of LivingSocial has invigorated the D.C. ecosystem with a new generation of startups. Borrowing Magnolia, a wedding dress rental business, Galley, a freshly prepared food delivery service, and online custom framing business, Framebridge, are among the ventures founded by LivingSocial alumni.
Venture Capital in Washington, D.C.
The D.C. startup scene is home to a number of influential venture capital firms that help invigorate the ecosystem. Venture Capital investment in D.C. has reached around $350 million in investment for years 2014 and 2016, with investment lower than $200 million in 2015.
According to a report from the Martin Prosperity Institute detailing worldwide VC investment in high-tech startups, D.C. is ranked eighth in the world with a total cumulative venture capital investment of $835 million until year 2012 (the most recent year these detailed data are available).
Data indicating the number of first-round deals in D.C. illustrate a stable ecosystem with an average of 36 first-round deals per year in the last five years.
One of the largest venture capital firms in the world, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), calls both D.C. and Silicon Valley home. In 2015, NEA’s fourteenth investment fund closed with $3.1 billion in investor capital, making it the largest venture capital fund ever raised. NEA invests in technology and health care companies around the world, but continues to support companies in D.C. such as online movie player SnagFilms and software producer Cvent.
A diverse portfolio of venture capital firms are settled in the ecosystem to guarantee funding sustainability. Fortify Ventures, an early stage technology investment fund, nurtures investors and entrepreneurs. Fortify has received $100,000 in funding from the D.C. mayor’s office. D.C. startup, Social Tables, recently raised $13 million in Series B funding from Fortify Ventures and other investors.
D.C. venture capital investment is strong, but compared to areas such as San Francisco, which posted over six billion dollars in venture capital investment, San Jose (approximately $4 billion) and Boston (approximately $3 billion), VC investment in D.C. still has room to grow.
Startup-Friendly Government Policy
Local government policy incentivizes companies to move to or remain in D.C. The District waives corporate income taxes for the first five years and provides new-hire wage reimbursements for startups. However, D.C.’s regulatory environment still implies high costs for obtaining business licenses and permits.
Washington’s venture capital firms, angel networks and private investors cannot compete with the extensive network and resources in established ecosystems like Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle in North Carolina. According to Dow Jones VentureSource, about 50% of all venture capital invested in the United States goes to companies in Silicon Valley.
Despite Silicon Valley’s dominance, D.C.’s location, culture and resources position it as a strong ecosystem. D.C. will continue to take advantage of the resources and opportunities presented by the federal government.
Corporations and startups are moving toward early stage interactions. MassChallenge, a highly successful nonprofit accelerator, has been connecting corporations and startups since its 2010 launch in Boston. MC has several US and international locations, which accelerated 372 startups in 2016.
MC delivers positive results and has been listed among the Best Startup Accelerators by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project, led by Baker Institute Rice faculty scholar Yael Hochberg. There are over 1,000 MC alumni, who have collectively raised more than $1.8B in outside funding, generated $700M in revenue and created over 60,000 jobs. According to a 2016 MIT study, MC startups are 2.5 times more likely than non-MC startups to hire at least 15 employees and three times more likely to raise $500,000 in funding.
With seven years of history, notable MC alumni includes Ginkgo Bioworks, which designs custom microbes to produce chemicals, ingredients and industrial enzymes. As a startup, Gingko Bioworks raised $154M in funding and signed a deal for 700 million base pairs of designed DNA — the largest such agreement ever made — with Twist Bioscience. Other remarkable graduates of the program include Ksplice, Turo, Sproxil and LiquiGlide.
An Attractive Alternative for Startups
MC is similar to other startup institutions such as Techstars and Y-Combinator. However, the nonprofit differentiates itself by not taking equity. Entrants to the accelerator must be early stage startups, defined as companies with no more than $500K of investment and $1M in annual revenue. As part of the four-month program, selected startups receive mentoring, co-working space, access to a network of corporate partners, tailored workshops and the chance to win a portion of $2M in zero-equity funding. Additional prizes are provided by partners such as The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center.
For entrepreneurs in regions with mature ecosystems like Silicon Valley and Boston, MC is one option among an array of accelerators and informal networks. This density of resources is called agglomeration, a geographic concentration of interconnected entities increases interactions and the productivity. The MIT study suggests MC acts as a complement to the prior advantages of startups in established ecosystems by providing key resources and access to social capital and also found evidence that startups founded in regions with higher access to early stage investors had on average higher quality ideas, but that their chances of success were not higher conditional on the quality of their idea.
For startups in nascent ecosystems the resources provided by MC can become the only option to pitch their ideas to investors and advance their company at no cost other than the time invested on the program. Of equal value is the endorsement received as a MC graduate inferring the quality of the startup venture.
MC could have faced financial challenges by providing accelerator programs at no cost and with no equity commitment. However, MC was able to become a bridge between large companies’ need for innovation and startups’ need for capital. Large companies have the scale of resources, customer information and market experience, but may lag in innovation. Startups, on the other hand, lack the resources but innovate with sometimes disruptive and successful ventures, frequently taking incumbents by surprise (Airbnb, Uber).
MC serves as a channel between startups and established companies to meet the need for fast-paced innovation. Companies like Bühler and PTC partner with MC to source high-potential startups for the development of advanced technology. Companies can also source tailored programs or tracks for specific needs.
A study done jointly by MC and innovation firm Imaginatik looked at how startups and corporations interact in new collaborative ways. The research team surveyed 112 corporations and 233 startups from various industries. 82 percent of the corporations considered startup interactions important, and 23% stated that these interactions are “mission critical.” Startups have a high interest in working with corporations with 99% stating it is important for them to interact with potential corporate customers, marketing channels and strategic partners.
MC communicates its impact and vision to donors by demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of alliances between startups and corporations. A solid accelerator program, global vision, robust network and a sustainable funding strategy have set up MC for success. As stated in the MC Impact Report 2016, the accelerator is committed to running 12 locations annually by 2020, including at least one on each populated continent.
Before establishing an MC accelerator, the metropolitan area is evaluated for the quality of its research universities, urban setting, level of entrepreneurship opportunity and investment capability. As government and private stakeholders partner, a sense of shared ownership becomes crucial to consolidating efforts. This engagement guarantees that the resulting ecosystems are seen as a shared legacy.
The next MC sites are yet to be announced. Currently in five locations with global impact, MC’s 2020 vision is on a path to become a tangible reality.
The author and editor would like to thank Tay Jacobe for assistance with researching and drafting this post.
Boulder has long been considered Colorado’s startup hub, but Denver is emerging as a strong contender. Mentoring and venture capital support have helped Denver’s ecosystem expand rapidly so that it is well on its way to becoming self-sustaining.
Denver has garnered a reputation as one of the best places for high-tech, high-growth ventures.The total number of tech startups located in downtown Denver has increased by 13% in the last two years; 4% above the national average in new startup growth. Denver has collected accolades that ranging from the Best Place for Business and Careers by Forbes to the third Best Place in the Country to Launch a Startup according to Washington D.C.-based accelerator, 1776.
Colorado has a history of high-growth entrepreneurship ranging from telecommunications (Dish Cable) to restaurant chains (Chipotle and Quiznos). The state’s venture capital-backed startup activity began in the 1980’s when national venture funds such as Access Ventures, Vista Ventures, Sequel Ventures and Heritage Group invested in local Denver startups. By 2000, Denver was supporting a startup ecosystem, but successful companies left the state or were sold to out-of-state purchasers. VC funding collapsed after the tech bubble burst.
In 2006 Jared Polis, Brad Feld, David Cohen and David Brown established Boulder-based Techstars, which brought the nascent startup ecosystems of Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs together. Accepting only 1% of applicants, Techstars is extremely competitive. Graduates of this three-month program average approximately $1.8 million in outside financing. In exchange for 7-10% equity, Techstars provides $18,000 in seed funding, a $100,000 convertible debt and mentorship opportunities. Denver alumni include UsingMiles, FullContact, Revolar and MeetMindful.
Techstars is not the only catalyst for the entrepreneurial community in the region. Former Denver mayor and current Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, himself an entrepreneur before entering politics, implemented policies that made supporting startups a central focus for economic recovery and growth.
Colorado’s Entrepreneur Friendly Policies
Colorado policymakers has made entrepreneurship a central focus. The state legislature has lowered tax rates and lifted regulatory burdens for the business community. Colorado taxes business at a flat rate of 4.63%, one of the lowest business income tax levels in the country.
Governor Hickenlooper has championed programs such as the Colorado Innovation Network (COIN), which works to connect the 29 Colorado research facilities with entrepreneurs. In 2014, the Colorado Impact Fund was launched, a public-private fund that estimates making 10-15 investments through 2020.
Since 2010, downtown Denver has added an average of almost 16,000 residents per year, resulting in a population increase of over 13% in the past five years. This remarkable growth has been accompanied with an increase in the number of homegrown startups. As a result, there is a significant number of resources available for Denver entrepreneurs.
Established in 2012, Denver Startup Week draws entrepreneurs from across the country. In 2016, Denver Startup Week attracted 12,500 people from across the country with 300 events, making it the biggest free entrepreneurial event in North America. Entrepreneurs participate in an elevator pitch competition and interact with VC fund representatives.
The Commons on Champa is a high-tech co-working space that brands itself as “Denver’s public campus for entrepreneurship.” Entrepreneurs have access to networking events, panels, workshop and onsite mentors.
The Rockies Venture Club (RVC) helps to bridge the gap between Denver entrepreneurs and investors. RVC is a Denver angel group that provides educational programs. In addition, RVC hosts events where entrepreneurs and investors can meet and make deals.
The University of Denver’s entrepreneurship initiative, Project X-ITE, brings a number of resources to students. Ranked as one of the top 30 entrepreneurial universities in the United States by Forbes, Project X-ITE is a cross-disciplinary initiative focused on the intersection of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.
The second quarter of 2018 will mark the opening of Catalyst HTI, which will serve a dual role as incubator and accelerator. Catalyst HTI will bring together entrepreneurs in technology and health care to create state-of-the art incubator and accelerator in downtown Denver. Companies such as CirrusMD and Revolar have already committed to joining the community.
Entrepreneurship for Women
In 2013, Denver was named one of the best places for women to start a business as by Nerdwallet. There are several female-focused resources in the city. Denver’s female entrepreneurs have found support from startup accelerator program MergeLane, which specifically invests in female-led companies. Recently, the Commons on Champa also launched Women on the Rise, an initiative aimed to support and celebrate the success of female entrepreneurs.
Other notable resources include The Coterie, Denver’s first women co-working community, and Women Who Startup, which hosts monthly meetings. SheSays, an international trade organization based in the UK, launched in SheSaysDenver in 2014 and counts over 1,000 women as members. SheSaysDenver provides free mentoring and events to women working in technology and business.
Overall, Denver VC investment is reflective of nationwide trends, with investment decreasing after the Great Recession, and recovering around 2010. Denver firms such as the Foundry Group, Grotech Ventures and Access Ventures are anchoring investment in the ecosystem.
Local VC received a significant increase in 2015 after Welltok raised a massive $45 million round of investment. VC investment has stabilized around $500 million in investments each year since 2014. However, the 2016 Colorado Startup Report notes that the total funding raised in 2016 was distributed across more than 129 different technology companies, indicating a greater distribution of capital. The Downtown Denver Startup Report indicates that in 2015 alone, more than 165 tech startups were founded in Denver in 2015.
Data indicating the number of first round deals in Denver illustrate a stable ecosystem with an average of around 50 first-round deals per year.
Looking to the Future
Denver entrepreneurs have noted that there is a significantly lower amount of early stage fundraising in the ecosystem. However, this is a reflection of a nationwide trend of cautious investing in early-stage investment.
Denver does have early stage VC investors, but in many cases, does rely on angel investors to supply funding. The University of Colorado’s Silicon Flatiron recommends the continued support of Colorado and Denver super-angel funds, also known as Micro-VCs, which are about $2-$10 million in size and specialize in early stage investing.
In the coming years, it is likely that Denver’s ecosystem will reach critical mass and consolidate as an attractive option for local and out-of-state entrepreneurs. With a strong and growing infrastructure for entrepreneurship, Denver’s startup growth and success is likely to continue.
You probably know St. Louis as the Gateway to the West, but the city is emerging as a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. For decades, St. Louis followed the economic development model of attracting and keeping large out-of-town companies with generous tax breaks and subsidies. In the 1990’s, political and business leaders became frustrated with the slow economic growth under these policies and began implementing entrepreneur-friendly policies.
While the city has not abandoned tax breaks and other subsidies to attract big companies, it has adopted an entrepreneurship model driven by state and private efforts. This model appears to be working. Data from the Census Bureau show 9.7 percent of businesses in St. Louis are startups less than three years old. St. Louis can now boast the second best rate of startup growth in the country.
It is widely believed that an ecosystem should be producing 30 to 35 deals per year to beconsidered stable. St. Louis saw three consecutive years of 30 or more first-round deals from 2013 to 2015. While 2016 reflects a poor year for St. Louis VC investment and first rounds, this decline reflects a nationwide trend.
St. Louis boasts sizable venture capital investment. Like many ecosystems, St. Louis suffered from the dot-com bust in the early 2000’s, but a strong pattern of VC investment seems to be emerging. How has St. Louis achieved venture capital growth?
The first entrepreneurship-focused programs established in St. Louis were the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Skandalaris Entrepreneurship Program.
The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center provides support for plant scientists who work directly with the agriculture technology startups. The Danforth Plant Science Center cofounded the Ag Innovation Showcase, the premier agricultural technology and innovation showcase in the nation.
The Skandalaris Entrepreneurship Program began in 2001 at Washington University, but expanded in 2003 to the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Skandalaris Center provides entrepreneurial training, networking opportunities and a mentoring program.
When the Great Recession hit in 2008, St. Louis suffered. The “corporate jewel” Anheuser-Busch laid off hundreds at their St. Louis headquarters. St. Louis’ per capita personal income shrunk by 5 percent. The metro unemployment rate reached over 10 percent. Despite Danforth Plant Science Center and Skandalaris Entrepreneurship Program, there still was not much positive entrepreneurial output. Researchers and politicians blamed the national economy and the greater time required to establish agriculture-focused startups.
The St. Louis entrepreneurial ecosystem remained largely unsupported until 2012 when the nonprofit Information Technology Entrepreneurs Network (ITEN) began to catalyze the ecosystem. Jim Brasunas, a former telecommunications manager turned entrepreneur, founded ITEN by utilizing the public-private investment fund, Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC).
While ITEN was founded in 2008, many of the programs were not active until two or three years after its founding. Many entrepreneurs credit the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to Brasunas and ITEN.
St. Louis has the requisite components of a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem; highly ranked universities, research-focused centers, accelerators, incubators and venture capital funds. However, the strong private-public partnerships and women-focused accelerators make St. Louis’ ecosystem unique.
In 2012, MTC put a significant amount of seed money into a new economic development model, Arch Grants. Arch Grants runs a global competition to identify potential entrepreneurs from almost any industry sector. Arch Grants then provides entrepreneurs with $50,000 equity-free grants and pro bono support services if they agree to build their businesses in St. Louis. Over 100 startups have been awarded Arch Grants including RoverTown, which was named the fastest growing tech startup in St. Louis.
Accelerators are key components of any healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem, and St. Louis has a plethora of accelerators. Capital Innovators is a 12 week accelerator program that provides $50,000 in seed funding to startups. The accelerator focuses on IT and consumer product startups, such as LockerDome, Bonfyre and Fluent.
Another notable accelerator is BioSTL. The investment arm of BioSTL, BioGenerator, has worked to grow bioscience startups in the region since 2001. MediBeacon, BacterioScan and Galera Therapeutics are among the startups that have gone through BioGenerator.
SixThirty is St. Louis’ largest and most famous accelerator with corporate partners like State Farm and the St. Louis Regional Chamber. The accelerator provides up to $100,000 in funding and sponsors two cohorts per year. SixThirty’s expertise is venture capital and revenue acceleration for startups that are at the late-seed stage.
St. Louis’ agricultural-technology industry is back, and Yield Lab, opened in 2014, focuses on accelerating this industry. Its nine month AgTech program provides early-stage companies with $100,000 in funding and looks to add value to companies that from a nonfinancial standpoint. The Yield Lab opened a second accelerator in St. Louis’ sister city, Galway, Ireland in January of 2017. Graduates of the Yield Lab include S4, Arvengenix and Holganix.
In 2012, St. Louis ranked a disappointing 25th in a national survey of women’s entrepreneurship. Prosper Women Entrepreneurs (PWE) was born when community leaders realized that the region could significantly improve its economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem if women reached their entrepreneurial potential.
Women now own a higher share of startups in Missouri than in any other state. PWE offers support to a woman-owned company focusing on technology, health care IT and consumer startups. Graduates of PWE include Appticles, Bandura System and SixPlus.
In addition to accelerators, St. Louis has a significant number of co-working spaces such as Exit 11 Workspace and Hive44.
Founded in 1999, CIC St. Louis is the most famous of the St. Louis co-working space. CIC focuses on biotechnology and bioscience startups. $2.1 billion in VC has been raised by companies originally based at CIC and more than 800 companies call CIC home.
St. Louis has a significant number of venture capitalist firms. While venture capitalist firms invest around the country and world, it is important to have firms in ecosystems as they often provide VC stability. Advantage Capital Partners, BioGenerator and RiverVest Ventures appear to serve as long term midsize anchor funds for St. Louis. Cultivation Capital raised its first fund in 2012. Lewis and Clark Ventures emerged in 2014 and are a midsize fund.
Looking to the Future
St. Louis is emerging as a stable and strong startup ecosystem in the Midwest. Efforts to increase private and public support for resources, as well as funding and tax credits for research, will facilitate St. Louis’ continued growth.
Legislation passed during the first three months of the 115th Congress pays disproportionate attention to entrepreneurship and innovation. McNair Center research shows that in a typical congressional session, less than 2 percent of legislation introduced is relevant to E&I issues. As of March 23, three of the ten bills that have become law during the 115th Congress directly address entrepreneurship and innovation.
A focus on entrepreneurship and innovation issues does not alone make for effective policy. Of the three E&I bills that have become law, only one, the Tested Ability to Leverage Exceptional National Talent (TALENT) Act supports a proven program, the Presidential Innovation Fellows. The other two laws, the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act and the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Act, are devoid of meaningful changes to public policy.
TALENT Act: Codifying a Proven Program
The TALENT Act is the most likely of the three bills to have real world impact. This bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23), codifies the Presidential Innovation Fellows program begun as an executive order under President Obama. This bill was part of McCarthy’s Innovation Initiative, a suite of legislation introduced in the 114th Congress. In an interview with Fortune, McCarthy described his goal for the initiative as, making government “effective, efficient and accountable.”
The McNair Center’s Julia Wang explains that Innovation Fellows are embedded in government agencies, working to effect internal change. Projects include making information about clinical trials for cancer drugs available to patients in a searchable website as part of the Cancer Moonshot, developing an interagency data portal for child welfare and creating Uncle Sam’s List, which enables government agencies to in-source services from other federal agencies.
Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship and Innovation
The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act directs the National Science Foundation to “encourage its entrepreneurial programs to recruit and support women.” The NSF’s premier entrepreneurship program is the Innovation Corps (I-Corps). I-Corps uses Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad method to train NSF-funded scientists to turn their research findings into entrepreneurial ventures. Scientists who successfully complete the I-Corps program can receive additional support for their ventures. NSF’s Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/SBTT) programs financially support I-Corps.
When the bill was debated during the 114th Congress, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT5), and the bill’s cosponsors did not present any evidence that the current NSF programs were failing to enroll women scientists and engineers. A picture of the 2011 pilot I-Corps program on Steve Blank’s blog shows a mixed gender group, although women do appear to be in the minority.
Several premier research universities, including Rice University, host I-Corps programs. The federal government requires that all participating universities are in compliance with Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs, in order to receive funding.
Hidden Figures No More: Women in STEM at NASA
The INSPIRE Act directs NASA to continue support of three current initiatives. All of these programs seek to encourage girls and young women to pursue careers in STEM. Two of these initiatives—NASA Girls and NASA Boys and Aspire to Inspire—provide interested students with virtual contact with NASA mentors. The third—the Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Research (SISTER)—is a week-long program for middle school girls at Maryland’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Sponsored by Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA10), this legislation directs NASA to continue supporting these programs, but does not mention expansion. The INSPIRE Act did not appropriate funds to support these programs, but funds were appropriated for NASA’s Office of Education in the agency’s fiscal 2017 budget, which became law on March 21.
President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 eliminates funds for the NASA Office of Education , although NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot promises that the agency will “continue to use every opportunity to support the next generation through engagement in our missions and the many ways that our work encourages the public to discover more” even if funds are not appropriated for the Office of Education.
The INSPIRE Act requires NASA to submit a plan to Congress on outreach to women. This will encourage communication between female K-12 students and retired astronauts, scientists, and engineers. In the floor debate, both Comstock and cosponsor Esty cited the importance of visible role models in motivating young women to pursue STEM.
Nonetheless, the bill’s narrow scope will limit the effects of the INSPIRE Act. If Congress removes NASA Education Office funding in fiscal year 2018, INSPIRE, which received bipartisan support, will only result in a report on educational activities that the agency would have difficulty funding.
All three acts passed Congress with bipartisan support. This suggests a shared interest in furthering government innovation and expanding access to careers in entrepreneurship and STEM. This support also implies that political leaders are prioritizing action on the rapidly expanding high-tech, high-growth sector. This sector now accounts for one fifth of the U.S. economy.
Would Congress be willing to go beyond the limited scope of these bills to effect truly innovative public policy? Past congressional sessions have devoted little attention these issues. However, Majority Leader McCarthy’s Innovation Initiative, including all three of the discussed bills, suggests that this neglect will not continue.
When you think of an emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem, you probably think of Austin, Texas or Boulder, Colorado, not a moderately sized city deep in the heart of the Midwest. But Cincinnati’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is positioning itself as a good place to start a high-growth, high-technology startup firm.
The Fortunate 500 companies that call Cincinnati home, such as Kroger, P&G and Macy’s, have been investing in their local ecosystem through a nonprofit organization. The resulting increase in resources and capital in Cincinnati’s entrepreneurship scene has led industry commentators, including TechInsurance and Entrepreneur.com to enthusiastically expound the city’s positive trajectory. In this blog post, I explore the driving forces behind Cincinnati’s transformation and ask whether it is real.
History of Entrepreneurship
Local and state governments have historically helped maintain the Cincinnati ecosystem. Individual grant programs provided the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Regional Chamber with funding for high-tech projects. However, until recently, the Fortune 500 companies have been largely absent from Cincinnati’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, and there was no depth to the ecosystem’s support and service organizations. For example, less than a decade ago, there was not a single startup accelerator anywhere in the region.
Accelerators in Cincinnati
The past few years have seen an emergence of a spate of entrepreneurial resources available in and around Cincinnati. Accelerators – 12 to 16 week entrepreneurship boot-camp programs for startups that typically end with a pitch day – now span the tristate area of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
Cincinnati now boasts The Brandery, UpTech, OCEAN, First Batch, Founder Institute, a minority business accelerator housed in the Cincinnati chamber of commerce, and two university affiliated accelerators. There are also several incubators in the local area.
The Brandery, located in Cincinnati and founded in 2010, was inspired by successful accelerators such as Austin’s Capital Factory and Boulder’s TechStars. The Brandery offers a three-month program for seed-stage companies that use Cincinnati’s existing strengths: branding, marketing and design. Companies receive $50,000 in seed funding, office space, branding identity, legal support and more in return for 6% equity stake in the startup.
The Brandery has a portfolio of twenty-nine startups. Notably, the Brandery accelerated FlightCar, “a marketplace that allows owners flying out of an airport to rent out their cars to arriving travelers” that was acquired by Mercedes Benz and Skip, “a mobile checkout solution that allows you to scan items as you go through the store and skip the checkout line.” The Brandery has been ranked a top-ten U.S. accelerator.
UpTech and Ocean Accelerator
Launched in 2012, UpTech is a Greater Cincinnati tech accelerator program for data-driven startups. Located across the river from Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky, UpTech was established as an effort by Northern Kentucky University College of Informatics and the Greater Cincinnati community. Up to ten startups per cohort participate in a six-month accelerator program and receive up to $50,000. UpTech differs from traditional accelerators in that it draws its hundreds of support staff from community volunteers and interns from Northern Kentucky University. Successful UpTech startups include online walking-tourism planning platform, Touritz, and software and data management company, Liquid.
The third and newest accelerator in Cincinnati is three-year-old, faith-based OCEAN Accelerator. Ocean runs a five-month program that provides mentorship, monetary support in the form of a $50,000 note, branding and legal advice. OCEAN claims to be the the only faith-based accelerator in the nation, and its curriculum features weekly bible studies. Alumni of Ocean include Casamatic, a real estate technology company that increases buyer engagement, and Cerkl, a startup that provides personalized email campaigns.
The University of Cincinnati and Xavier University both have academic accelerator programs. The University of Cincinnati’s Technology Accelerator for Commercialization provides full-time faculty and staff with the opportunity to develop intellectual property at the University of Cincinnati. In order to be eligible for the TAC program, the technology must be developed at the University of Cincinnati and have a focus on commercialization. Start-up companies are not eligible for the TAC program.
Xavier University offers a business program aimed to boost the Greater Cincinnati economy. Called X-LAB (short for Xavier Launch A Business), the seven-year old competition provides want-to-be entrepreneurs – particularly including students – opportunities to launch a business. The Williams College of Business supports the winners by providing the business expertise of its professors, executive mentors and MBA students.
Cincinnati has had stable seed-stage investors for some time. These include CincyTech and Queen City Angels, as well as some early stage venture capitalists and some nonprofits that provide grants to startups. In recent years, CincyTech and Queen City Angels appear to have had some successes and grown considerably, which bodes well for the future of the ecosystem.
CincyTech, a public-private partnership focused on seed stage investments, was the first effort by the local government to jump-start entrepreneurship. Established in 2001, CincyTech’s mission has been to strengthen the regional economy through the creation and expansion of technology companies in Southwest Ohio. CincyTech is now investing out of its fourth and largest fund, a $30.75 million seed-stage fund, which is bigger than its first three funds combined.
CincyTech garnered considerable national attention after providing Lisnr, a company that has invented an ultrasonic technology for transmitting data through sound, with Stage A capital. Lisnr came to fruition aboard the 2012 StartupBus, a competition where participants launch a company in 72 hours on a bus headed to Austin for the South by Southwest Festival. Since Lisnr’s establishment, they have received $10 million in Series B funding from Intel Capital and garnered accolades from CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list, Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity and Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards.
Queen’s City Angels
Likewise, Queen City Angels is the region’s longest running angel group and is currently investing out of its largest fund of $10 million. Queen City Angels provided the initial stage funding for Assurex Health. Now ten years old, Assurex grew out of research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic. Its singular product is the GeneSight Test, which analyzes twelve genes that influence mental health and psychoactive drugs that treat a spectrum of mental health disorders. Myriad Genetics purchased Assurex Health in April 2016 for $225 million with another $185 million to come when performance stipulations are met.
Coordinating the Ecosystem
Two organizations provide the glue for Cincinnati’s entrepreneurship scene. StartupCincy is a grassroots organizations that first registered its domain name in 2010. Cintrifuse is an example of a successful municipal government intervention in an entrepreneurship ecosystem.
StartupCincy describes itself as “the driving force behind [Cincinnati’s] new economy…a rallying cry.” In addition to maintaining a long list of upcoming network, education, accelerator and developer events in the city, Startup Cincy connects venture capitalists and angel investors to startups. StartupCincy is credited by the Cincinnati Business Courier as “one of the most influential groups leading the renaissance of Cincinnati’s startup community.”
However, the most important element of Cincinnati’s ecosystem is probably Cintrifuse. Established in 2011 with the goal of creating a sustainable technology driven economy for the Cincinnati metropolitan area, Centrifuse primary manages a fund of funds. This fund of fund has created a network of venture capital funds, including Allos Ventures, Mercury Fund and Sigma Prime Ventures, that invest in Cincinnati startups.
For big companies, like Kroger, USBank, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and Duke Energy, investment in Centrifuse isn’t just about financial returns. Corporate investors get access to new companies and new ideas, while the startups receive mentorship and connections that help them access potential partners and customers.
Cintrifuse also provides co-working space in Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood of Cincinnati, and entrepreneur-focused educational programs. More than four hundred companies have gone through Cintrifuse’s programs, and both CincyTech and the Brandery are located in Over-the-Rhine just feet away, providing unique collaboration opportunities.
Cincinnati’s Venture Capital Woes
Despite all of its great resources, Cincinnati is still not producing enough successful startups to be considered a mature and effective ecosystem. Although there is no consensus among experts, ecosystems that close around thirty to thirty-five deals a year are markedly more stable. Cincinnati falls far below this. While the number of first rounds has been increasing, it appears that the city’s ecosystem may be leveling out at an average of just five first rounds per year.
The largest barrier to Cincinnati’s emergence as an entrepreneurial ecosystem is probably the quality of its deal flow. Despite the recent increase in startup activity, Cincinnati’s venture capital investment peaked in 2002 at $343 million. The recent maximum was $235 million in 2014, with 2016 reverting to pre-2010 levels. Since the turn of the millennium, the venture capital investment has averaged just $139 million per year. Mature ecosystems, like Austin or Denver, are much bigger.
Cincinnati’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is small but does genuinely seem to be growing in an exciting way. From 2000 to 2009, Cincinnati saw an average of around two new venture capital deals each year. From 2010, when the Brandery opened its doors, to the present, the number of Cincinnati based startups receiving venture capital for the first time has more than doubled to almost five each year.
There have been many factors at play: more venture capital, more seed stage investment, more mentorship and engagement with established firms, the arrival of accelerators, a co-working space, and specialist training and professionalization programs, and, just possibly, that the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has achieved a critical mass of startups in close proximity. These factors appear to be working together to reinforce each other and grow the region’s startup ecosystem and the local economy. Cincinnati is surely a startup city to watch!
Eliza Martin, Research Assistant, McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
In her latest post for the McNair Center, Martin follows up on her previous analysis of Austin’s booming entrepreneurial ecosystem. Martin highlights Austin’s decreases in VC investment and deal closures from 2016 as signs of a slowing in growth. According to a report released by PitchBook, 2016 brought substantially fewer deal closures than 2015 for Austin startups. Martin suggests that increased perceived risk among investors and a recent decline in startups are byproducts of an over-investment into Austin startups in previous years.
Still, Martin remains optimistic about the health of Austin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem going forward, predicting that the city “ will see investment increase again after VC investment balances out.”
When the Kellogg’s and General Mill’s of the food industry realized that they couldn’t quell rising consumer obsession with healthy and unprocessed products, they started investing in food startups.
In recent years, many prominent names in the food processing and consumer goods industry began creating VC funds to invest food startups. According to CircleUp, a company that acts as an investment marketplace for food startups and PE firms, big players in the consumer good industry saw roughly $18 billion of their market share swept away by smaller competitors between 2011 and 2015. These partnerships are also mutually beneficial. Emerging food startups gain access to resources and credibility, and larger corporations receive valuable insight into the successful marketing strategies and recipes of their new competitors.
Patrick Henry, Founder and CEO of QuestFusion, Contributor, Entrepreneur
In his article for the Entrepreneur, successful entrepreneur and startup consultant, Patrick Henry, analyzes startup failures and successes. Henry reinforces the relevance of his post by citing an article by FastCompany, which states that 75% of venture-backed startups fail. Henry frames the question in two ways: what makes startups fail, and what makes startups succeed? Citing studies from StatisticBrain, CB Insights and Compass,
Henry attributes most business outcomes to company leadership. More often than not, successful startups have CEO’s or c-suite members with general and industry-specific business knowledge. Think Google’s Eric Schmidt, Ebay’s Meg Whitman or Apple’s Steve Jobs. Commons reasons for startup failures, such as raising too much capital too quickly, running out of cash or ineffective marketing, signal poor decision-making at the management level. Company founders should consider adding “seasoned” business veterans who the possess “domain expertise” to best support their strong technical team and existing product design.
According to Henry, startups should not undergo more than two pivots. Pivots are changes “in course of direction that result in a material change in the product-market strategy.” While young businesses should be equipped to adjust to market fluctuations, they should avoid being so flexible that they lose sight of their founding mission.
Wendy Guillies, President and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, discusses the megatrends of entrepreneurship.
The first major trend involves demographics. Despite America’s growing diversity, the country’s entrepreneurial population has remained largely stagnant. Women and other minorities remain largely underrepresented in business ownership. According to Kauffman Foundation data, minorities and women are half as likely as their counterparts to own a business that employs people.
The second key trend focuses on geography. Entrepreneurial activity is becoming increasingly concentrated in urban centers. According to Guillies, this phenomenon is largely a function of population shifts, as more and more people relocate to cities. From the 1980s to 2017, the share of small businesses based in rural communities dropped from 20 to 12 percent. “Increasing urbanism” also has spurred the spread of entrepreneurial activity from the major coastal hubs, “ driving geographical equality.”
The third trend involves job creation and technology. According to Guillies, “in the past, as companies scaled their revenue, jobs scaled in an almost linear fashion.” Now, this is no longer the case. For example, in 1962, when Kodak reached $1 billion ($8 billion today) in sales, the corporation employed over 75,000 people. When Facebook surpassed similar sales targets in 2012, the company employed a mere 6,300 workers. Despite promoting capital efficiency, digitization has slowed job creation from the startup sector, However, there is a significant upside to these web-based technologies: such platforms lower many of the barriers to market entry for small businesses.
According to Guillies, “these three megatrend…are sources of both concern and optimism.” If entrepreneurs and policymakers can better understand and take advantages of these trends, they can “enhance job opportunities for the benefit of us all.” For instance, if minorities alone started as many businesses as non-minorities, the economy would add more than 9.5 million jobs.
The 8th Annual State of Entrepreneurship Address took place this past weekend in Washington D.C. Jared Bakewell, CEO and Co-founder of Proseeds, an Omaha-based startup, recently sat down with the Silicon Prairie Team to discuss the event’s key takeaways. The Kauffman Foundation’s Guillies delivered the address,and she focused on the three major trends of entrepreneurship.
In the interview, Bakewell stressed a general consensus among the event’s attendees, which included entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and politicians: government policy should remove early barriers to success for startups and small businesses. For entrepreneurs in the midwest and rural areas, access to capital is a concern.Currently, most of the nation’s VC flows toward the coastal hubs. Additional concerns for startups looking to expand operations are instabilities in both healthcare and immigration policy. Bakewell optimistically concluded the interview, adding that many of the attending politicians appeared open to the suggested solutions to these challenges.
Last week, IBM Watson and Arrow Electronics announced a new partnership with crowdfunding website, Indiegogo. IBM spokesman Deon Newman shared with VentureBeat that the partnership will expand Indiegogo’s operations from purely fundraising to also incubating and accelerating startups.
Indiegogo cofounder Slava Rubin reiterated the strategic shift, telling VentureBeat that the company plans on evolving its platform into “a springboard for entrepreneurs.” All startups that participate in the partnership’s services will gain access to IBM Watson’s Bluemix. Bluemix, along with IBM Watson’s other AI services, will offer smaller companies the opportunity to apply machine learning processes to their existing infrastructure. Some successful participants will even participate in Bluexmix’s global entrepreneur program and receive $50,000 in capital from Arrow.