How Local Connectedness in Your Startup Community Enhances Your Success

While Canada’s Waterloo region might seem small at just 500,000 people, in the startup and technology world, it’s a giant. It’s best known as the home of BlackBerry and the University of Waterloo, while also including R&D offices for the likes of Google, Square, and SAP. In the past 10 years, Waterloo has seen a startup boom with the founding of more than 1,000 startups, averaging over $300 million in venture capital investment per year.

But what makes a region like Waterloo so successful despite its size? One answer is culture: over several decades, a shared notion of economic development through startups — and a common bond between incumbents and new entrants — has developed. This sense of community is hard to quantify but is critical for creating a culture of “local people believing in each other,” according to Chris Plunkett at Communitech in Waterloo.

A big part of this culture is what we call Local Connectedness, which captures the extent to which founders and others in a startup ecosystem not only interact but also support one another.

Ecosystems with high levels of Local Connectedness see higher levels of individual startup success, in the form of faster rates of revenue and employment growth. And, the entire ecosystem benefits, too. Our research finds a strong correlation between Local Connectedness and overall ecosystem performance.

Want to improve your Local Connectedness? Here are five ways, inspired by Waterloo, StockholmHelsinki, and other cities, that you and your startup can put into practive to help your ecosystem grow.

Provide meaningful support to other founders

The number one way to improve your Local Connectedness is helping other founders without expectation that they’ll also do something for you. This means that you should set aside a few hours a week to do things like make introductions, meet for coffee, answer questions, give advice, and engage on social media and email.

While this is not an easy ask — we are all so busy these days — you can block off time for this in advance. Even if you don’t know who you’ll be meeting with, you can set aside two hours every Thursday or Friday as time dedicated to helping others. Think of it as a fun challenge to see how efficiently you can help other people in your community. You never know who you might meet.

Teach ‘pay it forward’ at universities and startup programs

Another way to create Local Connectedness is to instill a sense of local pride and a “pay it forward” mentality to students who are on their way to becoming founders. For example, the University of Waterloo has a large entrepreneurship program called Velocity that provides knowledge, tools, space, and funding for startups, while also explicitly pushing founders to give back and help others.

One aspect of Velocity that other programs would be smart to emulate is the Velocity Fund, which was established in 2011 after Kik founder and Velocity alumnus Ted Livingston donated $1 million. The Velocity Fund, inspired by Livingston’s generosity, now awards $130,000 to local founders each year. This reminds other young founders of how important it is to contribute to the Waterloo ecosystem and how much of an impact you can have by allocating time and resources locally.

Create a newsletter or blog for your community

In many startup ecosystems around the globe, there are no local media outlets covering what is happening with startups. This means founders aren’t necessarily aware of the successes or hardships of other founders around them, and they don’t know about events where they could be meeting other community members.

Creating an email newsletter or blog that spotlights local startup activity and gatherings will help solve this problem. For example, Waterloo startup community builder Gary Will started an irreverent, fun newsletter to chronicle the startup community because local media wouldn’t.

This newsletter formed the basis for Communitech News, a blog and newsletter that professionalized the work that Will started. Communitech News and other newsletters around the world help build local heroes and tell engaging stories about startups. When other startups know about the work other startups in their communities are doing, it creates camaraderie and even opens the door for working together.

Mentor new founders or seek out mentors

Another way to build local connectedness is to be a mentor to other founders. If you’ve successfully built and sold a company or have grown a company for several years, you are in a great position to teach workshops or give advice to new founders in your community. Seek out local programs where you can get introduced to young founders who may need help.

Communitech has an executive-in-residence program that provides paid mentors to startups. These mentors work with startups for two years or less before moving on to new opportunities. Sometimes they even go on to work for companies they mentored, showing how these types of relationships can be good for both parties.

Create shared spaces where startups can work closely and cheaply

Finally, if you want to improve Local Connectedness between founders, ecosystems need spaces where startups can work inexpensively or for free. These spaces can be located at universities or can be subsidized coworking spaces. As long as they provide founders a chance to grow and build relationships with each other, they are worth investments.

Communitech opened in 2009, and it has grown to 130,000 square feet in its current form. Both companies that are part of and not part of Communitech can use the facilities, attend and run workshops, or just hang out. This builds a sense of community and creates a chance for founders to “collide” and attend events together.

If you can put any of these tips into practice, you too can help improve your community’s local connectedness and put your ecosystem in a better position to succeed.