Entrepreneurs starting technology businesses in their garages is the stuff of Silicon Valley folk lore. But will home-based entrepreneurialism propelled by Google Fiber be the lure for a new generation of entrepreneurs flocking to Kansas City and gigabit cities across the United States? Kansas City Startup Village says, “Yes indeed!”
Attendees in Kansas City for the recently Fiber to the Home Council’s conference, “From Gigabit Envy to Gigabit Deployed,” got a peek into the future of startup development. “The idea for KCSV came to us in September last year,” said co-founder Matthew Marcus in a panel session. “Our three buildings came on line with Google Fiber in the first neighborhood to get connected. Without any planning we began using these buildings to house entrepreneurs and create environments of collaboration and inspiration.”
Marcus owns one of the buildings, which are all within a block of each other, and hosts four companies including Local Ruckus that he co-founded with Adam Arredondo. Ben Barreth, a Web site builder and committed entrepreneur, bought one of the other homes, which he dubbed Homes for Hackers. Barreth provides free room and access to Google Fiber for startup entrepreneurs who can live in the house for three months and then move on to other locations.
Brad Feld, who has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur since 1987, was so excited about KCSV that he bought the third house, the Brad Feld FiberHouse. In October 2012 he released the book, “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.” Its principles and guidelines on how to build startup communities drive KCSV’s efforts.
“Kansas City has had a blossoming entrepreneurial community for a while, but Google Fiber became a lightening rod that has energized everyone,” says Arredondo in a Gigabit Nation interview earlier in the week. “Google expanded people’s thinking on what they can do based on having a gigabit network. Entrepreneurs are coming into the Village from around the country. KCSV is part of the city’s efforts to change its economic future by Kansas City becoming an innovative technology hub.”
To that end, KCSV has caught the eye of the political establishment in Kansas and Missouri, as evidenced by its Thursday reception for Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder and Congressional staff for U.S. Senators and House Representatives from both states. “We’re extremely fortunate to have Startup Village here in Kansas City,” said Representative Yoder. “Startups create the majority of new jobs in a recovering economy, and we hope showing off what’s taking place in KC will fuel more creativity, innovation, and similar startup villages across the county.”
Startup villages – coming to a town near you?
Half of participants in a national survey believe strongly that broadband can harness home-based businesses into an economic force within their communities. Another 13 percent have seen communities leverage broadband this way. The devil, of course, is in the details of achieving these goals.
Creating a density of startups is important. “Starting a company is very challenging and having people around you who are going through similar experiences is critical part of creating a sustainable successful startup community,” says Marcus. Getting entrepreneurs into the same neighborhoods lead to “serendipitous collisions,” people meeting each other randomly and ending up working together. “You begin leveraging the experiences of everyone else and avoid making the same mistakes others have made.”
Other cities should heavily promote the fact that they have highspeed broadband. It doesn’t have to be gigabit speed, though a gig network brings a hipness and cachet that young entrepreneurs thrive on and perpetuate. Communities should target broadband infrastructure to residential spaces for entrepreneurs who want live-work options, as well as to commercial spaces.
As communities promote their broadband capabilities, understand entrepreneurs’ needs. Some may want gig speed mainly to run their businesses, while the allure to others will be the ability to create products or services for individuals and businesses that use highspeed networks. The gigabit network is the perfect environment for those with the latter objective.
Not all entrepreneurs are starting tech companies. Marcus says, “KCSV is open to any type of start up. If a company makes clothing, sells or trades antiques and arts, they’re in food- or textile-based businesses, they all can set up and get as much support as tech companies get.”
Arredondo adds, “the basic principles of running a startup, when it comes to finance management, securing funding, marketing and so on are not that different across different industries. The need to share experiences and garner valuable insights and experiences is the same.” A startup community is [company][/company]about like-minded innovative people living in one place to leverage those experiences to make everyone better entrepreneurs.
The startups in KCSV reflect this diversity of industries and interests. They also reflect the allure of gigabit and community that reaches well beyond the state. Marcus and Arredondo are local guys, and their Local Ruckus company provides a Web-based service that helps consumers find and source local events.
Mike Demarais is a co-founder at Handprint, a startup that makes a web-based interface to simplify 3D printing. Demarais relocated the entire Handprint team from Boston to the Fiberhouse, retuning after he had previously lived and worked three months in House for Hackers.
Jonny Kot is a serial entrepreneur and tech enthusiastic. He left New York City and founded Tech-Pointer, which helps companies design, develop, and implement their technology and business strategies.
Brittain Kovac is on the staff of one of the KCSV startups, Leap2, which is a search platform that is revolutionizing search at its core by combining web artifacts with social media context, giving users the whole answer faster. She also is the first KCSV paid employee and will in in charge of several marketing activities for the group.
KCSV continues to grow organically. However, it is becoming much more structured in its operations and the planning of KCSV’s evolution. That said, communities (particularly local government) should not over-control entrepreneurs lest they stifle the very creativity and innovation that communities want.
Craig Settles is a broadband strategy consultant, host of radio talk show Gigabit Nation and a broadband industry analyst. He just released a new e-book, Building the Gigabit City. Follow him on Twitter (@cjsettles) or via his blog.