Creating a vibrant startup community

Creating a vibrant startup community

Creating a vibrant startup community

How a full calendar of high quality startup events and meetups increases entrepreneurial activity and strengthens the startup ecosystem.

By Samantha Deakin and Laura Bennett

We want to start this post by announcing the latest addition to the TEAM SY tech startup ecosystem family…

*drumroll please*

drumroll
📅📅 Enter the South Yorkshire Startup Events Calendar 📅📅

This is the place to find out what’s happening across South Yorkshire’s technology startup scene. Including meetups, startup events, conferences and all manner of startup goodness, never miss another opportunity to connect with entrepreneurs on a similar journey to you.

And why a startup events calendar? Well, in the words of Brad Feld, author of “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City”:

“The startup community must have continual activities that meaningfully engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.”

Let’s break that down a little bit…

 

What is a Startup Community?

First of all, what do we mean by Startup Community as opposed to entrepreneurial ecosystem? Essentially, what we’re talking about here is entrepreneurs and those who have direct interest in the success of startups – founders, investors, employees. They are the Startup Community. They are the heart of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, which also includes universities, local government, accelerators, and other stakeholders who contribute towards creating a supportive environment for entrepreneurs.

Read more about entrepreneurial ecosystems in this previous post.

 

Why are startup events and meetups important?

An entrepreneur’s network is hugely influential in her business. Having access to a network provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to seek out peer support, learn from others, forge relationships with potential mentors, and meet potential investors. A wide variety of regular events and meetups give entrepreneurs plenty of opportunities to expand their network, and contributes to the vibrancy of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Events and meetups also allow for serendipitous meetings-of-minds: by getting out and meeting people, entrepreneurs are more likely to meet that one individual who knows someone who knows someone else, who can unlock a particular challenge or problem that moves the entrepreneur’s business forward in some way.

When it comes to what’s available for an entrepreneur in a region, continual activities are key. We’re not just talking about one event a month here. We’re talking about several events a month, or even several events a week. There should always be something happening within the next few days and, as an entrepreneur, you should be able to network with other entrepreneurs on a very regular basis. 

Both of us have experience in organising startup meetups and running events for entrepreneurs. It’s a wonderful feeling to bring together like-minded people in a supportive environment, but it isn’t always easy. Two things that we have grappled with in particular are, one: getting bums on seats, and two: how to meaningfully engage the entrepreneurs that attend our events. We’ll look at each of these in turn, to share some of our experiences in the hope that it can help others.

 

Getting bums on seats

Whenever we (or others) have asked, entrepreneurs have always said that they really enjoy events and meetups, and that they get a lot of value from them. Great! But as any event organiser will tell you, getting people signed up and through the door can be incredibly challenging. Even when there’s a great speaker lined up, even when the topic is something that has been requested, even when previous attendees have said they will definitely come to the next event. This can be very disheartening for events organisers, and is certainly a feeling that we are both familiar with. Allow us to offer a few suggestions which have worked for us in the past:

 

  • Don’t give up! It can be hard work but also incredibly rewarding. We met each other (and many of our good friends) through startup events.
  • Seek out support. We at TEAM SY can play a cheerleader role here!
  • Look for a co-organiser. We’ve seen it work where two people come together to organise each meetup, and we’ve also seen it work when two people take it in turns to organise an event every other month. Both approaches help ease the burden.
  • Try a different time of day. If after-work meetups are falling flat, what happens if you start them at 4pm? Or does breakfast work better for your target audience?
  • Try having the meetup more or less frequently. If it is an informal get-together, perhaps try weekly. If it is a more formal meetup, perhaps try monthly, or even every other month.
  • Build up your own list of super connectors. Who are the people you know (or know of) who have direct access to your target audience? For a general entrepreneurship event, the list is long and includes managers of incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, and people working within business support functions at the local authorities, just for starters. 
  • Spread the word far and wide. This is where your list of super connectors comes in handy. Send them an email to ask for their help, but make it as easy as possible. Include some suggested tweets and a short paragraph about the event that they can include in a newsletter or email to their networks.
  • Get social media savvy. As a starter for ten: do you have a hashtag and / or a meetup specific social media profile? Which platform has the most reach for your target audience? Which individuals are likely to share your content? Make sure you tag them in your posts!

Run a startup event or meetup?

Add your event to the South Yorkshire Startup Calendar and reach a wider audience.

Meaningfully engaging entrepreneurs at events

There has to always be some kind of value add for attendees – otherwise why would they bother? For a three-day long intensive Startup Weekend, the meaningful engagement may come from the immersion in the startup experience, the practice of developing ideas and pitching, and the benefit of meeting potential collaborators and co-founders. For a regular, monthly startup meetup, the meaningful engagement could be hearing what an insightful speaker has to say or catching up with entrepreneurs who are struggling with similar challenges to you.

The entire entrepreneurial stack is unlikely to be catered for in one event, hence the need for that full calendar of continual activities. The entire entrepreneurial stack includes founders at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey whether startup, scaleup or established company. But it also includes those who may have ideas, passion or are dipping their toes into the startup pool. They may not have launched a product or startup yet, but they’re the entrepreneurs of the future, the next generation of startup employees, and events that meaningfully engage them let them know that entrepreneurship is a route they can take. That it’s possible for them to have ideas and solve problems they’re passionate about.

 

See you soon?

Check out what’s on the agenda for entrepreneurs in South Yorkshire this month. We’re particularly looking forward to Blue Lake’s Raising First Funds workshop and the Sheffield Startup Meetup / After Work Drinks so come hang out with us. We can’t wait to meet you.

What is an entrepreneurial ecosystem?

What is an entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Ecosystem image

What is an entrepreneurial ecosystem?

By Laura Bennett

Entrepreneurship – the creation of new businesses through innovative products or services – is essential for economic development, no matter what sector, vertical, or geography. To twist the famous phrase, “no man is an island”, let’s make the bold claim that “no entrepreneur is his or her business alone”. There is often a degree of hero worship around entrepreneurs – and certainly they deserve to be lauded, it is a bold move to set up your own business and shoulder that responsibility. But there are a host of other factors that contribute to the success of new entrepreneurial endeavours, and those should not be overlooked.

 

Entrepreneurs – those intrepid individuals who create those new innovative businesses – access support from a range of institutions, organisations, and individuals. Institutions such as local universities, funding bodies, incubators, accelerators, and co-working spaces are the more tangible aspects of an entrepreneurial ecosystem – they are often the elements you will find mapped out on an ecosystem map. There are two such examples in Sheffield, one created by my colleague Samantha Deakin, and the other created by the Synergy Project, led by my other colleague Ceri Batchelder along with Mel Kanarek who is one of the Directors of Sheffield Digital (link will be updated once this resource is online).

 

But new businesses also emerge from (and are dependent upon) the conditions of a place – spatial, social, cultural. To take an extreme example: a new business starting up in Gaza City will be very different from one starting up in Sheffield. It would serve different markets, would have access to different resources, and would be influenced by the culture in which its founders operate. An example closer to home: a startup in an urban Northern UK city may well be quite different to one in a rural South East town, operating under differing local government structures with varying levels of funding and political buy-in. These cultural, societal, and political influences are the less tangible aspects of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, but they are just as important as the more tangible ones mentioned above.

 

So, an entrepreneurial ecosystem encompasses both the components that support entrepreneurs and the conditions within which entrepreneurship is embedded. Like any concept, there are varying definitions, but broadly, it is agreed that an entrepreneurial ecosystem comprises the following components:

 

  • talent & workforce; 
  • large companies; 
  • sources of funding; 
  • markets; 
  • support services & mentors; 
  • incubation & education for founders; 
  • universities; 
  • entrepreneur’s informal networks, 

 

… that sit within the following conditions:

 

  • Physical infrastructure of a place
  • Cultural and societal norms
  • Government policy

 

This list of features of an entrepreneurial ecosystem have been identified as commonalities between places that enjoy a high level of successful entrepreneurship. But this clean list of bullet points belies the fact that each place will have its own specific mix of cultural norms, societal expectations, historical industry strengths, physical infrastructure, political support, not to mention different tangible aspects such as co-working spaces or business support programmes. 

 

The trap that it is easy to fall into is to assume that this list is like the ingredients of a cake – put them all together and the next Google will emerge from the oven. It is an attractive idea: create the ecosystem and entrepreneurship will surely follow, bringing economic growth, talent, jobs and innovation. But it is not as simple as “copy and paste”: for any entrepreneurial ecosystem to be successful, it must be rooted firmly in its locality, drawing its strengths and identity from the characteristics of the place

 

That being said, where there are gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, it makes sense to address them. It was in this spirit that the TEAM SY project was initially conceived, responding to challenges and barriers that are specific to South Yorkshire, and building on several years of supporting and stimulating the entrepreneurial ecosystem in London. You can read more about the TEAM SY approach in this LinkedIn article by Darren Balcombe, Deputy CEO of Capital Enterprise. Of course, London is a different beast entirely to South Yorkshire, so from the beginning there was no attempt to directly copy and paste the approach. Rather, the Capital Enterprise team worked with stakeholders in the region to identify where the TEAM SY project could most add value. You can read more about our approach to our ecosystem work in this blog post about the role of the TEAM SY Super Connectors.

 

So, the answer to the question “what is an entrepreneurial ecosystem?” is not as straight-forward as we might hope – as with any big concept, behind a seemingly simple phrase lies entire realms of discussion and debate, and not just in academic circles, but also amongst policymakers and practitioners. It can be all too easy to speak in jargon and throw buzzwords around like confetti. Like many big concepts, the more you think about an entrepreneurial ecosystem, the more questions arise. But, if we are to be concise (and if you are looking for a go-to definition), we can sum it up as the following: “An entrepreneurial ecosystem is the supportive environment in which entrepreneurship can flourish”. For a bit more depth, we can add that a range of different institutions make up that supportive environment, for example, public sector bodies, universites, and business support programmes. To take it further, let’s throw in the societal, geographical, and cultural aspects, i.e. “context matters”. 

 

With a more thorough understanding of the phrase “entrepreneurial ecosystem” it is easier for us to recognise all the often unseen support that goes into any successful venture. Whilst the entrepreneur might shoulder the risk, they do not need to carry this alone. Ensuring that entrepreneurs are able to access the support and resources that they need from the environment in which they are based increases the chances of success for those bold individuals.