One of the ideas that came out of the Beyond Silicon Valley Study Group we organised late last year, was to visit other cities, and find inspiration to strengthen the Düsseldorfer startup ecosystem. In February, I was in the fortunate position to do just that, during an entrepreneurship study trip sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. With 8 others, from different corners of Germany, we traveled to Washington, DC, Baltimore, Tucson and Phoenix; doing America in a week. We saw many different examples of how entrepreneurship is supported and promoted in the US, by the federal and national governments, by incubators and by universities.
In this post, I’d like to share some highlights of the tour, and key learnings. First of all, I was impressed by how projects and programs were managed. They were all based on a certain set of strategic goals (example from Arizona: creating jobs with a certain wage-level), and during the execution of the programs, activities were monitored and measured, and when the contribution to reaching the goal was not big enough, the program was changed.
Secondly, we visited two incubators who focused on social impact. Those visits confirmed what I already thought: there’s good business in doing good. You don’t have to pillage and plunder and ruin the environment to earn money. Really not. So, let’s stop doing that, now. We can make money by doing things that are beneficial for our communities and for the environment. And we can create jobs for others by doing so. Oh, and one eccentric entrepreneur, also known as Solar Man, had one very clear message about this: a good entrepreneur has purpose, and aims to solve a social problem.
If we want to change the culture around entrepreneurship and startups in Germany, we have to start with students. And they can do amazing things. That’s the third key learning. If supported and inspired at school, students can start and build successful companies. At the University of Maryland Baltimore County, we heard some stories of successful student entrepreneurs, and that was inspiring.
The last lesson learned I’d like to share, is that to get to where you want to go, you need to be creative. As an example, again from Arizona: in a business plan competition, the winners were rewarded with a set of prizes like seed funding and mentoring. The goal of the competition is to stimulate the creation of successful businesses. To get the most out of it, they don’t stop with the winners. The non-winners are actively approached to help them improve their plans and businesses. In that way, practically everybody wins.
If you want to read more about the trip, visit my StartupDorf on Tour Publication on Medium.