What began in the hotbeds of venture capital investment, Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston, has now spread nationally as more and more cities both large and small see entrepreneurship as a driver of economic development. And they see the best way to drive entrepreneurship as enabling accelerators and incubators. Coupled with this is efforts by investors who have lead the movement to try to mass produce startups: Y-Combinator and TechStars.
There’s no better indicator of how cities one would never have associated with the concept of accelerators or mentorship than this article from Charlottesville Tomorrow by Aaron Richardson Startup accelerator looks to combine space, mentorship, investment to retain local talent.
Lawrence Levine, a serial entrepreneur has founded Cville Machine. His intention is to prepare local software companies to secure a Series A round of investment:
The Cville Machine team said they expect to host between four and eight companies a year, using their successes to build a local ecosystem of entrepreneurs and workers. The challenge, Levine said, is not necessarily attracting talented people to Charlottesville, but keeping them here.
“We already have a flow of good people in town; I am interested in how we keep them here,” he said.
The idea is that once a few companies are able to raise money and grow in Charlottesville, others will follow suit.
“If we do this right, we will be attracting people to town,” Levine said. “Trying to attract the best talent means you need an ecosystem to keep them here.”
Note how Levine states not once but twice the need to keep talented people in Charlottesville. This is the major challenge faced by local and regional incubators. Even an entrepreneurial hotbed like Boston faces the challenge of losing it’s founders to Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley succeeds because of the network effect: the more successful companies it breeds the more founders have capital to invest in startups, the more startups the more VC investment, the more successful companies, and so on.
It is interesting to note that founders of accelerators are realizing they have to provide more than just office space and mentorship is a key added value:
Goodman and Levine classify Cville Machine as an accelerator — not just a space, but a source of mentorship and legal and accounting work that would otherwise be an expensive distraction.
It will be interesting to see if in this era of distributed entrepreneurship these local accelerators will effect Silicon Valley or act as farm teams, sending their best players to the major leagues in Silicon Valley or if they can retain their talent and create a thriving entrepreneurial hub as Brad Feld and TechStars have done in Boulder Colorado.