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I recently attended, as part of an overall effort to get out around town more (and away from my desk), Ignite Austin, an event that gives people five minutes and 20 slides to share an idea, and left jazzed about Austin's future as a place for entrepreneurs.No, it's not a stellar place to find venture capital, but it's a great place to start a business.Dell (DELL), Whole Foods (WFMI), National Instruments (NATI), and even companies like Sweet Leaf Tea were created in Austin, and there's an ever-increasing amount of resources devoted to making Austin a home for entrepreneurs the way it's already a home for live music.
When I'm in Silicon Valley, people talk about technology. In bars, over dinner, and at coffee shops. And they talk about things they'd like to build from that technology. It's awesome, especially for a nerd like me. But in Austin, people talk about their passions and how to tie them to technology. They also talk a lot about Austin, because the people here love the city so much they don't just want to build something—they want to build it here.
So the key is to bring those Austin-loving entrepreneurs together in a critical mass so they can both help one another and generate the kinds of successes that will keep Austin on the map as a top spot for startups. As I've written before, not every entrepreneur needs to be in the Valley.Bijoy Goswami, who runs Bootstrap Austin as well as a site to promote Austin's entrepreneurship called the Austin Equation, talked about how to do that in his presentation at the Ignite event. What will set Austin above the pack is creating what he calls a scene around entrepreneurship.
"You've got to convene the scene, get involvement, and then evangelize the scene to raise the attraction of it," Goswami said. To that end, he's mapped out a list of entrepreneurship resources in the city (it's pretty cool), and once a month, people from various parts of the Austin entrepreneur community meet to plan events, learn more about one another, and try to raise the profile of the local entrepreneur scene.
Will it work? Such things are pretty hard to measure, and as Goswami notes, there isn't an actual end goal, just continual work to ensure that things keep humming along. "I don't see this as finished work," he explained. "Maintaining the scene is an ongoing effort. Maybe there's fundamentally a bootstrap mindset vs. a venture capital mindset, where the whole idea of exits is huge."
Austin may never be a city with fantastic venture capital-worthy exits, but if the city can help support startups and keep entrepreneurs coming to Central Texas, I'm O.K. with that. After all, SolarWinds (SWI), a local software company, managed to go public last year during a wretched time for such exits, last week three-year-old startup Phurnace was bought by BMC (BMC) and this week Spiceworks, a local B2B company, raised $16 million.