Today, Hilary and Alex went to lunch with a programmer they knew from the local startup community. They brought him back to Path101's office and asked if I wanted to see the new side project he was working on. He came in and what he has is pretty interesting. We suggested a rollout strategy, a few lawyers to talk to, and some possible alternative sources of funding.
This kind of thing happens all the time. In fact, after I was done with this meeting, I found someone in my inbox asking me about entrepreneur mentors. He also added, "I am an aspiring entrepreneur myself and would like to bounce some ideas off of you as I am moving into the execution phase of my venture and will be located in NYC."
Add this to the phonecall I took over the weekend with a fellow entrepreneur who just got a termsheet and was trying to figure out his gameplan.
Meanwhile, in Louisville, Todd Earwood and Rob May were meeting a local entrepreneur giving feedback and talking shop. It's something I know they do on a regular basis in their neck of the woods, too.
So, while it's exciting to see new entrepreneurship mentoring initiatives like The Founder Institute, First Growth Venture Network, or the upcoming NYCMedia2020 program, there's really no substitute for a strong community of peer mentoring. Not everyone is going to hear about or even make these programs--but knowing that there's someone experienced, knowledgeable, and well networked within arm's reach in your local area is where the rubber meets the road in an innovation community. For every YCombinator, there's some dude who owns a warehouse in Bushwick giving cheap rent to a bunch of hackers and lending him his lawyer for contracts.
Rob and Todd, or people like myself, and Jimmy Gardner down in DC... we're probably talking to nearly as many startups as some actual investors are, often way before investment pitches. In fact, I'm surprised at how often I'm in touch with a startup and the junior person at a venture firm who is supposed to be the "feet on the ground" isn't talking with them at all--and they're getting paid to do this!
We don't make money doing it. We don't charge for the intros we make. And these are just some of the people I know about. This goes on all over the place. If you're a local city government, venture capital firm, or entrepreneur, figuring out who in the community has a reputation for being able to help startups is integral to understanding the startup ecology.
Innovation in today's world is a ground war--house to house, relationship to relationship, one conversation and introduction at a time. Programs with names, logos, and money are great, but when you get down to that incremental college kid with an idea sitting with a PHP for Dummies book, he needs to be able to find someone that he or a friend trusts to share his idea with and get advice from or it's never going to happen--and that could have been your town's Google.