Supporting Startup Communities: Some Reflections on ‘Brant’s Rant’
I’ve had the pleasure of being part of San Diego’s entrepreneurial tech community since the ‘70s when, armed with my fresh Harvard doctorate, I joined a little company called Linkabit (the practice run for Qualcomm). I quickly learned what a start-up company was from San Diego’s finest entrepreneur, Irwin Jacobs. Since entrepreneurship is infectious, like many other Linkabit graduates, I followed suit and started a couple of successful companies myself—PCSI and Waveware. It wasn’t as easy as Irwin made it look, but, by this time San Diego was becoming a showplace of entrepreneurial support, and I benefitted tremendously from people like Connect founder Bill Otterson, who literally took me by the scruff of the neck and planted me in front of some tough looking stranger, saying “Martha, you have to tell this VC about your company— he’ll love it!”
Needless to say, by the time I got done founding companies and had joined Windward Ventures, I felt deep gratitude to the institutions in town that mentored me, educated me, networked me, helped fund me, and made me feel like I had a shot at being a successful entrepreneur. I am talking about institutions like Connect, CommNexus, San Diego Venture Group, Tech Coast Angels, the MIT Enterprise Forum, and others. Each has a different focus, but each added to the great mix of entrepreneurial lessons and connections available in San Diego.
Recently I was sent a link to a blog post by an author named Brant Cooper who grew up in San Diego, moved to the Bay Area in his early 20s and returned after 18 years. You can find his post here. Some people are referring to it as “Brant’s Rant.” He has positioned himself as an educator and networking organizer for San Diego’s young entrepreneurs, and he has written a couple of books. Although as far as I can determine he has never been a founder himself, he’s a bright, energetic, and charismatic leader for this group, so, I was eager to read what he had to say in his blog.
To his credit, the blog is chock full of references to organizations, thought leaders, and concepts on the cutting edge of building entrepreneurial support communities. It serves as a source for disseminating the newest lingua franca in startup methodology and models familiarizing us with terms like “lean startup”, Y-Combinator, and TechStars. Of course any organization or individual worthy of supporting entrepreneurs is hungry for these new ideas. Our local support organizations for the most part crave awareness of innovations in entrepreneurial support along with up-to-date knowledge of shifting economic assumptions and changing markets. In order to stay relevant, these entities are always evolving in order to improve their effectiveness in supporting San Diego entrepreneurs—it’s part of their DNA! So, in this respect, the blog is very useful.
However, where this post seriously fails is stepping over the boundary from factual information into the realm of uninformed editorializing that goes well beyond the author’s knowledge base. In a nutshell, his post simply spends most of its words taking a hatchet to many of San Diego’s well-established and highly respected organizations that provide startup support in this city. The writing is acerbic and adolescent, a “you-can’t-trust-anyone-over-30″ attitude about San Diego’s rich system for supporting entrepreneurs. It even includes an accusation (conveniently attributed to another author) that it is peopled by “old white guys” from big companies. It systematically attacks every established organization in town supporting entrepreneurs.
Such writing is shockingly divisive and—worst of all—incredibly damaging to our city’s population of young entrepreneurs who are its major audience. As a detractor of EVERYTHING, the blog leaves them nowhere to turn for support. Bill Otterson would turn over in his grave to hear the blog’s description of our town’s entrepreneurial support failures. And iconic entrepreneurs and leaders like Irwin Jacobs and Dick Atkinson, who heavily supported Bill’s internationally recognized organization to “connect entrepreneurs with funding,” wouldn’t recognize this rewrite of San Diego history.
It’s not clear why the blog needs to be so destructive in such a wanton manner. It makes assertions that are later retracted and replaced with other misleading and unsubstantiated statements. Maybe it’s simply a publicity stunt to promote the author’s own activities and books.
To create a “them” and an “us” may sell books or get young entrepreneurs to meet-ups, but at what cost to our local community? There are enough other predators trying to take business from San Diego. Our town can’t afford this. If one only destructively criticizes and creates misunderstanding of our existing local support organizations, rather than working with them to improve, how WILL they improve? If one only teaches the folks new to this ecosystem that they shouldn’t trust the existing support system, and that they shouldn’t turn to it for help, where can they turn?
As a successful veteran of San Diego’s entrepreneurial support system, and now one of many heavy duty volunteers who spends several hours each week for this purpose, I cordially invite the author to dialogue openly with the current leadership of these organizations, to share his ideas with them and to work towards uniting our whole entrepreneurial ecosystem rather than dividing it. We need his input in a constructive way because—after all—we all want San Diego to win!