Through a set of relationships dating back to a collegiate jazz band in Ohio in the late fifties, I am family friends with a gentleman who knows Pandora-founder Tim Westergren from his Stanford days studying music.
That connection is not, however, how Tim Westegren came to be speaking in Sacramento at TechEdge in early March. That debt of gratitude is owed to Jon Gregory, at SARTA’s partner, Innovate North State. Jon knows Tim from the days when he was pitching for venture capital funding – for a company named Savage Beast – and came to one of the pitch-fests that Jon organized as part of Golden Capital Network.
Thus a small piece of the long history of working to support entrepreneurship and tech companies in the Sacramento region: Tim Westergren is coming in 2013 because of work that Jon Gregory did in 1999. And he’ll be speaking to an audience many of whom, fourteen years ago, may not have been dreaming of entrepreneurship or building companies from the ground up. And yet there they’ll be, listening avidly to Tim’s story of how he did exactly that.
This goes to further prove Brad Feld’s point, in his book Startup Communities, that the work of creating effective startup communities is a twenty-year commitment that rolls forward and renews with every new day.
Startup communities – those that celebrate founders and leaders, value appropriate risk-taking, and actively learn from the inevitable failures – are created over time as investments in the long-term future of a community. Moreover, startup communities yield value to the communities they’re part of that far exceed the number of jobs or amount of capital investment – they create a dynamic, risk-tolerant culture that the broader business climate can benefit from.
These days it is very tempting– and important – to look for immediate, substantive job creation as the highest purpose of economic development. After all, there remain far too many people, especially in the Sacramento region, who are unemployed. But we mustn’t lose sight of the larger objective: that we are working to build the economic foundations for our region’s next economy, and that foundations don’t get built overnight (or, if they do, one might be wise not to trust in their durability).
Don’t get me wrong. SARTA is having an event on Friday, March 8. It’s called TechEdge. You should go, because it will be inspiring, fun, and a lot of people will be there. And, yes, I definitely know that we’re not going to create a foundation for the next economy in a couple hours over lunch on Friday.
But what we do at TechEdge is important, nonetheless, to that foundation. At TechEdge we celebrate the risk-takers, the founders, the visionaries, the stubborn SOBs who get turned down for VC funding and just keep battering away at their dream nonetheless. We hold up people like Tim Westergren, who has clearly succeeded on the international stage – and we also hold up people like Steve Baker, Jeff Gray, and Lisa Klinkhammer, who are driving their own companies with equally single-minded purpose and great successes.
We invite them to tell their stories, because story-telling is one of the most powerful ways we have of learning (this is the English major in me coming out), and because the stories we tell ourselves define who we think we are.
And Sacramento, we need to be confident that we are founders and builders and creators – of companies, of jobs, and in the eventual end, of our own next economy.