“Silicon Valley doesn’t have a monopoly on brilliant entrepreneurs and founders,” Derek Andersen tells me over coffee, “so we want to find them wherever they live, give them a stage and an opportunity to share their hard-won experiences with those who need it and might benefit from it.” That mission statement sounds like it might have come from one of the founders or mentors of Y Combinator, 500 Startups, DreamIt, AngelPad or Seedcamp. But Andersen isn’t a venture capitalist, nor is he building yet another accelerator or incubator. He’s not even interested in equity.
It sounds crazy, right? But Andersen is talking about Startup Grind, an events-based community for entrepreneurs he founded in 2010. For those unfamiliar, the company grew out the casual, episodic meetings Andersen had with friends and fellow entrepreneurs in his office in Mountain View, in which they’d gather at night to brainstorm, give feedback on ideas and business models and talk about being an entrepreneur. The meetings were productive, so Andersen decided to make them a monthly thing.
Startup Grind had its first event in February 2010 with nine people in attendance and the numbers have grown steadily since. It launched its first chapter outside of Silicon Valley in LA in December 2011. Seven months later, Startup Grind now has monthly events in 20 cities worldwide (Austin, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Toronto, Ottawa, Baltimore, Singapore, Tel Aviv, London and Sydney — to name a few) and the founder wants to be in 30 by year’s end.
But what does “being in” these cities entail? Andersen says he thinks of Startup Grind as being TED for startups and founders. Or one might think of it as an entrepreneurial Elk’s Club or a national, self-sustaining of local affiliate networks … a la Fight Club.
That means Startup Grind hosts monthly meetups in each of its affiliate cities, in which any and all entrepreneurs and founders can participate. These groups talk about the startup hustle, network, share notes on investors and partnerships, all of which is framed around keynotes or interviews given by local veterans, who share their knowledge and advice with the community. The founders of Pinterest, Digg, About.me, AngelList, Zaarly, Meetup, along with names like Jeff Clavier, Steve Blank and Dave McClure have all spoken at Startup Grind events in Silicon Valley.
Naturally, Andersen wants the Steve Blanks and Dave McClures of the world to be speaking at events in every city. So, initially, he and team would launch Startup Grind in nearby cities themselves, but entrepreneurs began taking the initiative themselves and now anyone (in any city can apply).
But that doesn’t mean everyone is getting accepted. Says the Startup Grind founder: “We’ve turned down the majority of requests to start new chapter. We’re very picky about making sure we find the best possible people in local markets to represent our community. We’ll start in just about any city, as long as we find the right person.”
If accepted, each city’s “Local Chapter Director” manages and runs their local network and community, organizing events and recruiting speakers. The team wants events to be the same everywhere, meaning that attending a “Fireside Chat” in Toronto should feel just the same as it would in Timbuktu, with an emphasis on “building meaningful relationships,” Andersen says.
That sounds great, but idealism only goes so far. There are a lot of valuable entrepreneurial communities and networks developing around accelerators, hacker events, and more. Andersen says that they really want to “keep it real,” acknowledging that everyone fails and struggles when building a company, no matter what level. Even the founders of Pinterest, or Steve Blank, have had moments of brilliance and despair, and Startup Grind wants to give equal value and voice to both sides.
When asked about the value for his city, Toronto Chapter Director Michael Caley said,
We saw an opportunity to connect the scene in Ontario to other hubs and the hottest topics in Silicon Valley. Startup Grind is a chance for us to crawl up out of the trenches and survey the whole battlefield. Having that perspective makes everyday at our startup more meaningful. Startup Grind Toronto has delivered a series of events to highlight the shifting context of early stage finance. In order to compete, Toronto needs to take these stories to heart.
So, while accelerators and incubators are known for accepting only a tiny percentage of startups that apply, Startup Grind provides a networking and educational venue for the other 97 percent. It doesn’t charge “dues” to its local affiliates, and the founder says that the team is trying to recruit the same people who help educate Y Combinator and TechStars companies, only instead prompting them to share their experience and knowledge with the local startup ecosystem.
The company brings on sponsorships for each event (like Bing, Google, local law firms, and others) and charges at its events, which the team believes can help create a more resolute crowd for networking. Startup Grind offers a rev-share deal for its local communities, but Andersen says the majority of money the events make goes to the organizers, who put it towards future costs and recruiting. Today, the company has a small staff and is profitable.
Communities like Startup Weekend, AngelHack and Lean Startup Machine are all providing great ways for founders and hackers to collaborate, learn and help build networks in their communities — and the more, the merrier. The world is a big place, and not all innovation is (or should be) happening in or around the Bay Area.
We’re hoping to build a community that acknowledges that, even in Silicon Valley, where the startup grass is always greener, building a startup is hard and can rattle the self confidence of even the most rugged lone wolf — and that can be a serious comfort and motivator to entrepreneurs all over the world.
Startup Grind at home here.