Update: This post actually turned into a Ted Talk. Watch above.
It’s almost common language in the tech community now that you don’t need Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs are taking a different route by creating the community they dream to be part of, right where they live. I’m aiming to do this with Newark, NJ. Using examples from those such as Brad Feld, Tony Hsieh, and of course history.
In 1906 a wealthy African American named O.W. Gurley moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in hopes of buying some new land. He successfully acquired 40 acres and started one of the most unknown business movements in American history with the new Greenwood district. I invite you to read up on it. I want to focus on how they grew.
First it started with a rooming house, then 3 two story office buildings, and before you knew it over 600 successful business were being incubated in this self-sustaining district with 10,000 African American residents. According to research these included: 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, 2 movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, a Post Office, libraries, schools, law offices, bus systems, and much more.
So what are 3 takeaways we can use when building our own startup communities?
Make Your Weakness Your Strength
Because of the intense segregation, many of the blacks migrating used the business from the Greenwood district. You would think not having access to certain services would slow growth, but it forced them to provide for themselves. Taking advantage of the competitions prejudice was a big part of their success. Get creative and find out ways you can flip the bad into good for your community.
Keep The Money In The Area
They only used services from each other. Barbers, cabs, etc. So before you go on the internet or go out of town see if you can source the needs of your business locally. One of my favorite startups to watch is ZeroCater. ZeroCater allows businesses to cater lunch to their employees from local restaurants. We should take that model, and use it for more than just food.
Creating their own schools was a huge part of their success. Some schools required travel through the racist parts of town and didn’t provide a quality education. So they kept the schools in the district. Today educating your community has become easier than ever with platforms such as Skillshare and Eventbrite. Teaching the young and old new skills, helps companies keep their employee skill levels high. It also helps new entrepreneurs gain the tools and the know how to start a new venture.
So as you build a community in your town remember to take your biggest weaknesses head on, use and promote local services first, and teach others new skills constantly. If everyone in the community did those three things I’m sure you will start to see a difference over time.