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Can Austin Ignite the Fire of Entrepreneurship?

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I recently attended, as part of an overall effort to get out around town more (and away from my desk), Ignite Austin, an event that gives people five minutes and 20 slides to share an idea, and left jazzed about Austin’s future as a place for entrepreneurs. No, it’s not a stellar place to find venture capital, but it’s a great place to start a business. Dell (s dell), Whole Foods (s wfmi), National Instruments (s nati) and even companies like Sweet Leaf Tea were created in Austin, and there’s an ever-increasing amount of resources devoted to making Austin a home for entrepreneurs the way it’s already a home for live music.

When I’m in Silicon Valley people talk about technology. In bars, over dinner and at coffee shops. And they talk about things they’d like to build from that technology. It’s awesome, especially for a nerd like me. But in Austin, people talk about their passions and how to tie them to technology. They also talk a lot about Austin, because the people here love the city so much they don’t just want to build something — they want to build it here.

So the key is to bring those Austin-loving entrepreneurs together in a critical mass so they can both help one another and generate the kinds of successes that will keep Austin on the map as a top spot for startups. As I’ve written before, not every entrepreneur needs to be in the Valley.  Bijoy Goswami, who runs Bootstrap Austin as well as a site to promote Austin’s entrepreneurship called the Austin Equation, talked about how to do that in his presentation at the Ignite event. What will set Austin above the pack is creating what he calls a scene around entrepreneurship.

“You’ve got to convene the scene, get involvement and then evangelize the scene to raise the attraction of it,” Goswami said. To that end, he’s mapped out a list of entrepreneurship resources in the city (it’s pretty cool) and once a month people from various parts of the Austin entrepreneur community meet to plan events, learn more about one another and try to raise the profile of the local entrepreneur scene.

Will it work? Such things are pretty hard to measure, and as Goswami notes, there isn’t an actual end goal, just continual work to ensure that things keep humming along. “I don’t see this as finished work,” he explained. “Maintaining the scene is an ongoing effort. Maybe there’s fundamentally a bootstrap  mindset vs. a venture capital mindset, where the whole idea of exits is huge.”

Austin may never be a city with fantastic venture capital-worthy exits, but if the city can help support startups and keep entrepreneurs coming to Central Texas, I’m OK with that.  After all, SolarWinds, (s swi) a local software company, managed to go public last year during a wretched time for such exits, last week 3-year-old startup Phurnace was bought by BMC and this week Spiceworks, a local B2B company, raised $16 million.

Thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user turtlemom4bacon’s

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11 Responses to “Can Austin Ignite the Fire of Entrepreneurship?”

  1. And dont forget 15 year old Austin company,, which is leading the online business printing space. To Todd’s comment below, the irony is that unfortunately some of the big VC investors in Austin already act like they are Menlo Park’s finest. Hope life is treating you well Stacey!

  2. I think there’s a need for another tech-centric entrepreneur center or many more. The notion that anybody with a great idea has to relocate to ‘the valley’ to increase their chances of visibility is ridiculous…Venturing into a start up is challenging enough–let alone moving across country—talk about compounding the RISK!!!!!

  3. Love the article- thanks. Innovation is thriving in Austin!

    Austin is home to frog design’s 2nd largest studio (after our SF headquarters) with over 100 passionate ethnographers, designers, strategists, technologists, and developers. We’re well known over the past 40 years for helping top brands like Apple, Disney, GE, and HP deliver iconic products and design to the market, but we’re also always interested to talk to local entrepreneurs with big ideas that need a healthy dose of design thinking + design doing to breakthrough to market success.

    As one of the top global innovation firms on the planet, frog can be a valuable and powerful one-stop partner/ advisor/ quality stamp for taking an idea and making it real. Not just product and digital design anymore, we are a truly holistic, multi-disciplined product ideation, branding, design, strategy, prototyping, and development partner. Think ‘Apple in a box’ without having to deal with Steve.

    And just one more thing…

    Don’t miss our legendary SXSW Interactive Opening Party in March!

  4. Austin is a great place and has an energy better than San Francisco and other tech places. Affordable cost of living, people love living there and some great companies there. I really look forward to seeing Austin grow.

  5. joshuabaer

    One of the biggest surprises to me is how hard it can be for startups to find technical co-founders in Austin. I would have thought it would be easy! But time and again I find 2 business guys or gals with a great idea and often even a working site and some traction, but no technical co-founder to balance them out. To try and help fix this problem, Capital Factory has started organizing “Startup Speed Dating” events to match up technical and business co-founders. We’ll be doing one more in January and another in February – keep your eye out or follow @CapitalFactory for more info.

  6. I think Austin would be a great place for the up and coming entrepreneurs. It is the live music and indie movie capital, full of passionate people. There is also a substantial geek/nerd culture in Austin since it’s a college town. It is different from the Silicon Valley, and the entrepreneurs there may not be necessarily looking for Silicon Valley style exits, but there is definitely great potential. The cost of living is a fraction of the Silicon Valley, in fact there is a significant people who have migrated from the Silicon Valley to Austin (yours truly was one of them)