How to Break into A Startup Community And Build Your Network
The decision to make the leap to aspiring entrepreneur is nothing short of massive, requiring proper thought, planning, and support.
To do so in a new market, as either a first-time entrepreneur or an expat in a new setting, is even bolder. How do you transform from tourist to local founder?
This is a guide for breaking into a new startup community and building your network the right way.
Where to Begin
You’ve committed your time and effort to pursuing an idea–an exciting time of fully unrealized potential.
To effectively kick off your idea development and enter execution mode, the first step is to familiarize yourself with the market you’ll be entering through both market research and networking.
A market is not just made up of customers, but of an entire ecosystem of players, from investors and founders to accelerators and incubators to coworking spaces to government programs and so much more. Building the right relationships upfront can and will make your startup journey smoother, more enriching, and ultimately more successful.
Important questions for your consideration:
- What makes the ecosystem unique–what differentiates it from other markets and why start-up there?
- What are the challenges or limitations of starting up in the ecosystem? What has held back startup growth to this point, whether it be capital, talent, mentorship, or even something as obvious as the size and age of the population?
- On which industries does the ecosystem focus, either based on historical growth or emerging growth?
- What are the local startup success stories, and what are they up to today?
- Who are the prominent figures in the ecosystem–the leaders and change agents?
- Is the ecosystem driven from the outside in by government programs and money, or from the inside out by private capital and a tight-knit entrepreneurial community?
Education & Prep Work
Preparation is a must.
Evaluating the above questions will provide you the foundation you need to really understand the potential of your idea in the context of your particular market.
The good news is there are more resources at your disposal than ever before to help navigate and break into a new startup ecosystem, among them a broad spectrum of local overview articles and reports.
To achieve a surface level understanding of the ecosystem, you can begin by browsing global startup ecosystem reports such as the Global Startup Ecosystem Report published annually by Startup Genome or the Startup Ecosystems Ranking Report published by Startup Blink. These are great starter resources, although they aim for high-level consistent information across a wide variety of global ecosystems, as opposed to going deep within specific ecosystems.
In some cases, governments have created agencies and initiatives focused on promoting the local startup ecosystem.
For example, India’s government created an information portal surrounding its ecosystem. These reports are helpful as reference points and can be quite comprehensive. That said, they do not necessarily reflect an insider perspective of what’s actually happening on the ground, but rather the government’s interpretation of the ecosystem. Alternatively, in more established markets, either private organizations like Spain’s Mobile World Capital publish annual overviews of their startup ecosystem, or local tech publications publish overview articles. For example, EU-Startups publishes posts about European ecosystems, and Asian tech news site e27 publishes an annual report covering Southeast Asia’s ecosystems.
Tracking down information for emerging ecosystems is more challenging. In these instances, the digital media site Medium has proven to be a valuable information source, serving as a platform for ecosystem members such as local investors to promote the achievements and dynamics of countries like Romania or Peru.
As helpful as the above resources are in providing an orientation, there’s no replacement for live interaction within the ecosystem. That’s why it’s crucial to get in front of the right people in close conjunction with your research.
Gaining access to the inner workings and communities of a startup ecosystem is no longer reserved for a select few, especially in emerging ecosystems looking for talent and growth.
There are two approaches to building your network in a startup ecosystem:
First, take full advantage of the existing technology-related Meetups nearby. Meetups are informal events to meet like-minded people and exchange ideas. Even better: all you need to do is register and show up. To find a relevant Meetup, go to meetup.com and filter for tech events as well as your city. Here’s an example of a list of upcoming tech events in Bogota, Colombia.
Meetups are a great way to meet people, but the experience can be variable.
Each event has a different crowd and more events are more structured than others. It’s certainly worth exploring this approach at the onset, but in parallel, you should tap into arguably the single most underrated members of an ecosystem: coworking space/hub community managers. Many coworking spaces and hubs have managers whose job it is to keep a pulse on the surrounding entrepreneurial community. These individuals have extensive networks of local contacts and are the ultimate matchmakers. In most cases, their contact info is listed on the space’s website. Obviously if you’re working from the space, you can and should engage the community managers, but even if not, there’s no downside to reaching out with a thoughtful email detailing who you are, what you’re building, and what types of people you’re looking to connect with.
The Next Evolution of Ecosystem Overviews
The information sources and techniques above can make a real difference in your experience in a new startup community, but it can be incredibly time and labor intensive to do all the upfront research and properly outline your approach–where to focus and whom to engage.
That’s where Startup Universal comes in. Launched in February 2020, Startup Universal aims to be the Wikipedia of global startup ecosystems–a locally-sourced and trusted central home for global startup ecosystem information and news.
The site includes ecosystem guides for countries around the world edited by those who know the ecosystems best–leading local investors and founders.
Each guide includes background information, focus industries and up-and-coming startups, stats covering the local economy, a database of community resources from investors to local tech publications, and a curated news feed of locally sourced articles. The goal is to build a truly global knowledge source that’s authentic, credible, and relevant. As you embark on your own entrepreneurial journey, hopefully Startup Universal can help you identify the answers you need to make the journey count. Best of luck!