SlossTech featured panel Birmingham, Alabama

Featured speaker @ Sloss Tech in Birmingham, Alabama

I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to be part of the revival of SlossTech, where I joined a panel discussing how different entrepreneurship ecosystems vary by geography.

Among my favorite pushes: Everyone has projections about why their city is special but spreadsheets are full of hopes and lies.

A few of the notes I drafted with example questions beforehand:

  • I’m going to start with you on this since your focus is a bit bird’s eye view. Do you think this list is comprehensive? And if a city doesn’t have every one of these, can they still be successful as a tech ecosystem? Nothing works without having a place people want to live, and I might add it does help to have a few break-through companies. If you’re trying to make chocolate chip cookies, we have collectively agreed on a few ingredients, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t decide to make a different dessert or make their own spin on those cookies. Most usually though those shorthand frameworks are a pretty good start
  • One thing they don’t mention in this list is publicity for these ingredients. Tell us about your company, but why you’ve chosen to be a champion of tech ecosystems as a whole. We all so intuitively understand the importance of getting our message out that communities often take it for granted — we build all these systems and programs but quickly hit a ceiling in terms of who knows what we’re doing. Somehow entrepreneurial ecosystems often have both types of problems that journalistic storytelling can help with: They don’t tell their story consistently enough and they often don’t tell it honestly enough. tries to help with both, so we champion these communities but we do also hold them accountable.
  • What excites you most about your current city in terms of the tech ecosystem, and what’s one thing you’re still hoping to see improve? The US Northeast has density, and is the oldest developed part of our country. Not needing a car was a big part of it for me, and old established industry and money mean lots of customers and investment communities. We don’t identify enough as a cohesive region.
  • You recently posted that “the healthiest economies aren’t the ones with the most small businesses or big businesses, but the ones with the most NEW businesses”. Will you unpack that a bit for us? We often confuse the concepts of new and small business, which is ineffective for economic development and policy making. Most Americans work at big companies, those 250 employees or more. We care about small business largely because the only ones that survive have a big cultural footprint — that restaurant you love or those that fill very narrow neighborhood niches. But new businesses are a whole other category: They’re sparks of new ideas. It’s the difference between stocks and flows. Famously most will fail, but some will always fill those other niche of small and big.
  • An interesting thing about where you sit in this ecosystem is that you’ve heard from others what they “think” is different about their city, but really isn’t? What are we all struggling with that maybe isn’t the issue we should be focusing on? Let me guess: Your city has an exciting startup community, good universities, great food and culture and rebounding neighborhoods with lofts and craft cocktails and breweries. We all do now. Push forward.
  • Special sauce of where you live: Philadelphia angles for the most affordable big city. Cell and gene therapy there; robotics in Pittsburgh; cybersecurity in Maryland and govtech in DC.

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