Book Review: Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City

I just finished reading Startup Communities: Building An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City by Brad Feld.  This book codifies the steps aspiring leaders need to take to create a startup friendly community anywhere. Several years ago when I was living in Northern California, I was engaged in a debate with a startup veteran on why Silicon Valley was what it was—a place where new transformational technologies would be invented every few years and create billion dollar industries overnight.  There are a few old reasons: – The defense industry had left a legacy of technology companies and these companies form the foundation of innovation
– The amount of venture capital money in the area is the glue and magnet that keeps drawing entrepreneurs to the area
– Stanford and UC Berkeley are very good engineering schools and they continue to feed the area with smart and technical founders

What my opponent argued, and convinced me, is that it’s not really about one of these things but rather the ecosystem where various firms were the organisms that had give and take relationships with the environment around them. A corollary to this was that Silicon Valley was extremely unique and it would be very difficult to replicate the model elsewhere.  I still believe this but that doesn’t put me at odds with Startup Communities. Brad Feld’s point in Startup Communities is that instead of trying to replicate Silicon Valley, the better approach is to support the growth of a community that takes advantages of the strengths and resources of the locale. Startup Communities is the manual for aspiring startup community leaders.  It dives into the who, how, and why of building an ecosystem.  What makes this book so good is that Brad’s experience really shines when describing certain personalities you might meet, classical pitfalls, and the best attributes for leading the growth of a community. Every town or city can sprout a startup community that’s unique to that particular locale.  This book is definitely worth checking out if you are passionate about startups and want to create a local ecosystem to support it. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon.

Rounding Up Volunteers, via New Apps

This New York Times article describes how the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy necessitated the development of mobile apps to organize volunteers and relief efforts: > Not long after the hurricane hit, Mr. Sims’s company was among those that began organizing events known as hackathons, where programmers and engineers develop applications and services around a central need or theme. George Shank, an interactive software developer who works with Mr. Sims, helped build a service called Sprout Help that relays information about where to send supplies and how to volunteer effectively. “A lot of it stemmed from wanting to help but not being sure how to do it,” Mr. Shank said. “We heard stories of people going to fire stations to volunteer and being turned away.”

Read more here.

NY Times: The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur

Here’s an opinion piece on the New York Times Fixes Blog from David Bornstein on the roots of social entrepreneurship and where it is today: > With the new attention has come confusion about what social entrepreneurs do, however. One problem stems from the word “entrepreneur,” which, to many, is synonymous with “businessperson,” and therefore implies that social entrepreneurs simply redeploy business skills and tools to build enterprises to solve social problems. However, some of those who track this work most closely say that the greatest strength of social entrepreneurs isn’t in the way they build ventures to deliver products or services, but in the way they connect people in new configurations and, in so doing, help people work together more effectively, influencing their career or life pathways.

 [Read more here](

Amicus Uses The Social Graph To Improve Non-Profit Fundraising

Amicus is a new startup that recently came out of Y Combinator, a well known and highly regarded startup incubator based in Silicon Valley. They’ve recently raised $3.2 million in venture capital to launch their product which uses the social graph to improve non-profit fundraising. Description from TechCrunch: > Fundraising phone calls from strangers make people hang up. But if the caller’s a friend, friend of a friend, or is similar to you, you’re more likely to donate. Amicus has just raised $3.2 million to offer this social graph intelligence to non-profits. Y Combinator, FF Angel, 500 Startups and more have put money down because they think fundraisers will put money down on Amicus to get donors to…put more money down. Non-profits spend $0.20 of every dollar they raise on overhead, and a lot of that goes to inefficient fundraising. That equals $60 billion last year for U.S. non-profits alone. Until recently, though, there was no way to know who on your giant potential donor list was connected to your teammates. But now there’s Facebook. And there’s Amicus CEO and co-founder Seth Bannon. “I’ve been involved with causes since I was 14 and I’ve always been super frustrated,” he tells me. “I thought crappy tech was holding the causes back and wasting my time and my volunteers’ time. So a few colleagues challenged me to fix it and here we are.” Other plays in the social fundraising space like Causes and Fundly are focused on using Facebook and Twitter as channels for sending indirect invitations to donate. But Bannon thinks “those mediums are still very spammy. They’re not really great at compelling donations.” Anyways, only 11 percent of donations are raised online. The rest come from the tried and true methods of fundraising — phone calls and snail mail. Just think of it this way, Bannon explains: If a friend sent me a Facebook invite to donate, I have no problem ignoring it, because they probably wouldn’t even know. If a friend sent me an email, I might ignore it but I’d feel guilty. If a friend called me, I’d call them back. If a friend sent me a postcard I’d be giddy. So Amicus concentrates on getting non-profits more donations per phone call or snail mail. How? It combines the non-profit’s mailing and phone call lists with the Facebook data of all their supporters. It looks for matches and assigns staff members to call or mail people who are their friends, friends of friends, or who they have interests or other biographical data in common with. “Hi, I’m Josh calling on behalf of the Red Cross. We went to the same high school / are both friends with Eric Eldon / both love the San Francisco Giants. Can I tell you about our fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy?” The answer is more likely to be yes. And that’s why non-profits are willing to pay for Amicus. The startup is already profitable, in fact.

Two Degrees Food: A Nutrition Bar That Gives Back

NBC’s Today Show tomorrow (Nov 15) will feature a segment on Two Degrees Food. Here’s a quote from AARP’s blog post on it: > Walters along with his co-founder, Will Hauser, a 25-year-old former Wall Streeter joined together in 2010 to form a company with the purpose of doing business for good. By that, I mean developing “Two Degrees Food,” a nutrition bar company where a portion of the proceeds go to feeding hungry children both here and abroad. Two generations, both yearning for a new “life calling”! They had no real food manufacturing company experience, only believing they had enough connections and experience between the two of them to create a profitable start-up company that works for good.

Where To Volunteer in New York- Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

VOLUNTEERS IN HIGH DEMAND! Below are a list of volunteering resources if you are interested in pitching in. EDIT: I will be adding additional listings on an on-going basis.  Many of the links I’ll be adding going forward will be important and valuable albeit more locally focused efforts. – NYC Service ( Offers a variety of ways to get involved cleanup and recovery after Hurricane Sandy. More volunteer opportunities will be added as communities assess their needs and begin to rebuild.  Check back often for the most up-to-date volunteer opportunities throughout the five boroughs.
WNYC (Radio station) Radio station WNYC (93.9 FM and 820 AM) is keeping a running list of volunteer activities.
O’Reilly Radar Blog A tech media and publishing company, their blog lists several resources to help volunteer for post-hurricane relief.  Notable is their list of online volunteer opportunities (I will directly link to these opportunities below).
NY Tech Responds Mobilizing New York’s Tech Community to support hurricane sandy recovery.  Includes providing tech help, volunteering office and co-working space, and projects for hackers.
WSJ Metropolis Blog Wall Street Journal’s New York City blog lists some resources and volunteer opportunities.  Also listed is contact information for New Jersey, if you prefer to donate your services to devastated communities in that state.
Occupy Sandy Relief Occupy Sandy is a coordinated relief effort to help distribute resources and volunteers to help neighborhoods and people affected by Hurricane Sandy. Members of this coalition are from Occupy Wall Street,, and

Additional requests for volunteers:Rockaways Relief Effort – Rockabus site focuses on aid for the Rockaways.  Includes supply drop off sites around the city.  If you want to sign up to volunteer, please do it here.  See images here for some of the devastation in that community.– Brooklyn volunteer locations to help Rockaways Jay Parkinson MD writes on his Tumblr about his day helping out in Rockaway on Saturday Nov 3.  He calls for volunteers (read towards the end of his post) Staten Island Resources-Tunnel to Towers is acception donations
Rebuild Staten Island is on Facebook
Staten Island Marathon for Sandy Relief is on Facebook
Images of marathoners boarding Staten Island Ferry to volunteer Crisis Resources– This map lists many resources.  The view I have set here is for volunteer resources. TimeOut New York has a long list of how to volunteer and help out with hurricane relief Strong Island– *Long Islanders, this is a tool to help you find and give help as we recover from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. TwitLonger has a long list of local volunteer opportunities New York City Shelters may need supplies *FEMA websiteFor Those Who Want to Help– Cash is best: the best way to support survivors of Hurricane Sandy is to make a financial contribution to trusted organization. Please read these tips on donating and volunteering responsibly.
– Give blood: numerous blood drives have been canceled as a result of the storm and the Red Cross has a need for blood donations. To schedule a blood donation or for more information about giving blood or platelets, visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).