Which startup ecosystem describes itself as being “the wild west”? I didn’t discover the answer until I’d travelled to five of the six cities on Comcast’s Tomorrow Tour 2016. Urban communities are catalysts for innovation, now and for the foreseeable future, as city centers transform, demographics shift and consumers re-imagine their relationship with goods and services. The Tomorrow Tour was an enlightening opportunity to stop, and listen to what was really going on by those who know it best: the startups and entrepreneurs living and innovating the future.
Each stop on the Tomorrow Tour had a unique energy and vibe, but a common thread of civic enthusiasm was on prominent display at every location (be it pride, boastfulness or bravado). Some other commonalities:
- Each city recognized it was at a crossroad, be it from tough times to stability or scattered success to sustainable achievement.
- The importance of co-working spaces and events were highlighted as indicators of economic activity, community cohesion or both.
- Collaboration or “friendly competition” was seen as an essential attribute for continued success.
- Regulation and logistics (be it the ease of incorporating or getting across town) were repeatedly, the number one challenges.
- Every ecosystem said it could use more money (venture capitalists, strategic investors and angels). And everyone recognized the need to attract and maintain great talent.
What made the Tomorrow Tour conversation so meaningful and so powerful was not only just the insights that come out of the roundtable discussions and networking, but rather, that these insights flowed so easily and with brutal honesty. It was unfiltered, brutally revealing (and in some instances unattractively so). It was not the type of conversation that simply happens because a corporation decides to gather people in a room and offer them a catered lunch.
The Tomorrow Tour was magical.
The Tomorrow Tour was about the startup community first and foremost. It was authentic to its stated purpose from the first stop: to simply convene and learn. It didn’t begin with assumptions or answers, just a true willingness to listen – and in return it found communities thirsty to grow, eager to share and desiring to know where they stood in comparison to other communities.
Not every corporation that services and engages with startups can successfully pull off an ambitious multi-city event like the Tomorrow Tour. Put the event planning logistics to the side, here are some observations on why Comcast made this event series so successful:
- Comcast adopted the networking best practice of “give before you get”. Each event was structured around local entrepreneurs and influencers in community, the spotlight being very clearly on them, not the organizer, throughout each event.
- Comcast showed it was willing to take risks. It asked the question “what can we do better / how can we help?” and then was open to receiving feedback and to hearing new ideas.
- Comcast acted like a startup, much like the company a founder would like to find himself/herself sitting next to in a co-working space (sharing best practices and resources, commiserating over shared experiences, taking and offering up guidance). In doing so, Comcast magnified the trust it already has earned in the community.
And then to top it off, the Tomorrow Tour team hustled post-event to share insights and prepare a digital toolkit. By moving fast to turn the conversations into actionable insights, the team forged stronger bonds for future collaborations.
Comcast in its actions throughout the Tomorrow Tour showed it was truly part of each community and wanting the same goal as each and every startup in the room.
So which city thinks of itself as the ‘wild west’? No, it’s not Denver, it’s Miami.