Our next #50startups founder has been a steady supporter of Bend tech startups for years, from managing one of the first coworking spaces to putting together startup weekends to co-founding this very blog. In the meantime, James Gentes also started — and sold — his own company. And all of his t-shirts say startup on them. Needless to say, he is passionate about the topic.
So it’s no surprise, that Gentes’ latest venture, StartupCommunity, involves organizing startups. For cities and regions trying to get their arms around a growing and changing startup landscape is a bit like herding cats. Gentes’ new web app, allows communities to track and measure their own startup activity with the end goal of spurring economic growth. That’s like sweet, sweet music to our ears. We caught up with Gentes to learn more.
Founder: James Gentes
How would you describe StartupCommunity?
StartupCommunity.org is a web application that helps city and community leaders grow their local entrepreneurial ecosystems. We help them avoid spreadsheets by providing a social network that connects entrepreneurs with mentors, investors, service providers, and other founders. As a result, they drive economic growth by promoting and measuring the impact of startup activity within their city and across their state.
What inspired your idea?
A couple of years ago, Jim Schell and SJ Camarata visited Boulder, Colorado to try to understand how they’ve been so effective at cultivating entrepreneurship. What’s interesting is that Boulder (and Silicon Valley) have a highly interconnected network of startup founders, mentors, and investors. The idea was that we might be able to accelerate the growth of our local economy if we had a way to identify the people and companies in the community, organize them by industry cluster, and connect startup founders with the mentors, investors, and services that could help them scale.
Without a platform to help facilitate this, we didn’t have much visibility into who was working on what. Organizations like EDCO (Economic Development for Central Oregon) used spreadsheets to track their mentor group, and now they are able to track everything online in a searchable community network.
What do you hope StartupCommunity will accomplish?
My goal is to help cities derive more of their economic growth through entrepreneurship, and to use the experience we’ve gained creating our local startup community as a template for other regions. I believe that technology will continue to make it easier for people to start companies, and cities that focus on supporting entrepreneurship will benefit from the growth that startups create.
Describe your progress so far …
We’ve got cities in Oregon and Washington on board, and are working with others in the mid-west. We have big plans to support equity crowdfunding when it goes live in May 2016, since many early stage companies rely on people within their community for their initial financing, and this new law allows everyone to make equity investments in startups.
Any speed bumps in your startup journey? (If people say no, we actually punch ’em.)
As a pre-revenue bootstrapped startup, the main challenge is staying afloat financially while the business ramps up. It always takes much longer than you expect, even when you expect it to take a long time. So there’s a lot of stress that comes from the financial risk of spending all of your money in something that may or may not pan out. In my case, I focused on an area that I was already volunteering a lot of my time in, which is helping to build our local startup community. I figure if I’m passionate enough about it to spend my free time doing it for years on end, then I’ve got the necessary motivation to keep me going through the natural ups and downs of startup life.
Finally, you’re a veteran of this startup community. What advice would you give other Bend startups?
We could create a whole article about this. (Let’s do it!) First, I would say leverage the community. There are a lot of cool people in Bend, and many very experienced business owners. Join a coworking space, attend events, and volunteer your time to become a member of the community. The connections you make will benefit you in the long run.
Also don’t require funding to start. If you can’t come up with an MVP, test your assumptions, validate your market, and gain some traction without funding, you’re trying to do too much. Revisit the lean startup methodology and narrow your focus to something that you can execute on without funding. Once you’ve gained some momentum, you’ll be in a much better position to approach investors. Don’t have the time or money, you say? Welcome to entrepreneurship.