There were two deep-dive public discussions on the state of Louisville’s startup community on Monday: An Open Coffee panel delved into the future of the Velocity accelerator program, while an Insiders Meetup later in the afternoon asked the question, “Does Louisville have enough capital to support startups?”
There was lively discussion along with some debate at both events, which isn’t surprising given the local startup scene consists of a diverse, engaged, and often vocal group of entrepreneurs and investors.
The overarching theme of the Insiders Meetup — Does Louisville have enough capital to support startups? — in particular proved to be a source of disagreement, prompting mixed responses both among audience members and panelists.
The panel — which consisted of Terry Gill of EnterpriseCorp, Wright Steenrod of Chrysalis, Hunter Hammonds of Impulcity, Jonathan Erwin of Red e App, and Katie Bush of the eponymous marketing firm — largely concurred that Louisville has plenty of sources for seed capital, but not enough for companies that want to “level up” beyond seed funding.
Hammonds, for example, said he left Louisville, relocating to Cincinnati, to chase additional capital. Others in the audience said that if an entrepreneur creates the right product, the money would find it, no matter where the startup was located. Moderator Tom Cottingham, CEO of IL, even suggested that “more money may mean more bad business plans being funded.”
Despite the discord over whether there’s enough capital in Louisville, there seems to be plenty of consensus on other topics related to our growing startup scene. Based on Monday’s conversations, here are a few things on which we seem to agree…
Stick To Our Strengths
At the Insiders Meetup, Cottingham and Terry Gill reminded the audience that both the city and individual companies should examine their strengths and weaknesses, and then play up their strengths. It’s easier and ultimately more beneficial to cultivate the things we’re already good at than to bemoan our flaws or try to plug our gaps.
Gill said that if one angel investment group is good, then five is better. We should be making the most of the fact that we are a very connected, small city.
Also at the meetup, Katie Bush suggested in passing that perhaps the startup community needs more events tackling problems that entrepreneurs face, like hiring talent or finding quality board members. But several members of the crowd and fellow panelists suggested that’s not the case — that in fact, Louisville is overflowing with networking resources for entrepreneurs, both general and niche. (To be fair, the vast majority of Bush’s clients are in Silicon Valley, so she spends a lot time out of town and away from the community.)
Gill noted that there is an “incredible number of people willing to help people” in Louisville’s entrepreneurial community. Both Red e App’s Jonathan Erwin and Hammonds said Louisville is a pretty “flat” place and that just about anyone in the city is accessible.
It’s All About The Team
IL’s Tom Cottingham said people place too much emphasis on the individual entrepreneur. “You’re the front man in the band,” he said. An entrepreneur needs back up, both in the form of a team and advisors.
According to Hammonds, the biggest reason his much-ballyhooed startup, Impulcity, failed is that he lacked guidance. Turns out the business model he imagined for the company was actually illegal, but none of his investors were active enough in the social media and entertainment sphere to know to warn him.
Chrysalis’ Wright Steenrod agreed that not only should entrepreneurs develop a supportive team, but they also should be open to criticism and feedback. Often people say they want feedback, but they don’t really listen, he said.
The same topic was explored earlier in the morning at Open Coffee, where the panel featured EnterpriseCorp’s Terry Gill, Blue Sky Foundation’s Bryce Butler, the Ogle Foundation’s Kent Lanum, and serial entrepreneur Galen Powers.
Powers said he launched his first two startups with no knowledge of the support services available to the startup community. He said he didn’t “plug into the community at all.”
And that’s a familiar refrain. There are plenty of people in Louisville starting businesses without any of the support and guidance that the startup community, EnterpriseCorp and other organizations have been trying to cultivate.
This, essentially, translates into a marketing problem.
At Open Coffee, it became pretty apparent that if Velocity’s accelerator and especially its physical space — with the co-working facility and event space — ceases to exists, something needs to fill that void. Access Venture’s The Park co-working space may be a replacement, but that isn’t clear yet. iHub lacks the physical space and “hang-out” feel of Velocity.
In other cities, there is a hub of entrepreneurial activity. If you’re in Nashville, that hub is the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. In Cincinnati, it’s the Brandery.
It’s not just about the physical space, but about the networking and elbow-rubbing that goes on when people bump into each other at these locations.