More than 200 Founders Sound Off on Building Startup Ecosystems

More than 200 Founders Sound Off on Building Startup Ecosystems

Check out the City Tour experience for highlights and

Each year the Comcast NBCUniversal Startup Engagement team embarks on its City Tour, criss-crossing the United States to meet with startup leaders and learn what makes each ecosystem unique. With travel curtailed this year, the team conducted virtual events in seven cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. The roundtable discussions with more than 200 founders, funders, and startup leaders led to incredible insights about entrepreneurship, fundraising, and building connections.

A survey of City Tour participants indicates these are the
largest gaps in the startup communities of the seven cities we visited.

Here are five takeaways from this year’s City Tour:

1. Tech talent and startup capital is migrating. While COVID-19 allowed people to work from anywhere, many professionals moved away from traditional startup cities. Two regions benefited immensely: Miami and Atlanta.

Miami’s tropical climate, lack of a personal state income tax, and gateway to Latin America was particularly attractive to founders.

“We’re all thinking about where we want to spend our time — and increasingly, people look at the map and choose Miami. That presents an enormous opportunity for the Miami startup ecosystem to take a huge leap,” said Matt Haggman, head of One Community One Goal at the Miami-Dade Beacon Council

Meanwhile, Atlanta became a go-to destination due to its pleasant climate, vibrant tech ecosystem, collaborative community, and relatively low cost of living.

“There is a lot of new money coming to Atlanta, meaning new angel investment activity,” said Jon Gosier, founder, and CEO of FilmHedge, which finances movie and TV productions. “There are people with a lot of dry powder looking to support great founders.”

2. Collaboration is the engine propelling startup ecosystems to thrive. In every city, we heard a common refrain: startup leaders genuinely want each other to succeed. In Chicago, for example, “you can go outside, toss a rock, and find someone working on a project to help founders in a ‘give first’ type of way,” said Neal Sales-Griffin, Managing Director at Techstars Chicago.

There is a similar vibe in Detroit, where the city’s most successful professionals are freely available for coffee or a virtual meetup, according to Anthony Montalbano, co-founder of Backboard: “The willingness of people to help out actually inspires me to want to help out. The giving environment is so powerful.”

Philadelphia’s supportive culture was on full display at the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns, when the community stepped up to minimize potential damage to fledgling startups.

“Every one of the community builders — from startup-focused organizations to the Chambers of Commerce, to regional governments, worked together to figure out what everyone needed,” said Jason Bannon, Vice President of Marketing & Communications at venture capital and private equity firm Ben Franklin Technology Partners. “The surge of collaboration was remarkable and beautiful.”

3. Early stage funding is the most pressing challenge.

“There needs to be more early-stage funding,” said. “I have a powerful app, and I’m in series A. It’s crazy for us to be at this level and still need more assistance. There should be a much better ecosystem here, especially in one of the most powerful cities in the world.”Startup founders in every city were vocal about the need for more early stage funding. Angel Rich, Founder of Washington, D.C.-based financial literacy startup CreditRich, said it is surprising that funding is still a big need. 

In Philadelphia, Isabelle Kent, president of the networking and community building organization Philly Startup Leaders, said amplifying local success stories can help bring in more capital.

“We need to help our startups understand how to tell their stories better,” said Kent. “Philly has so much to brag about, and we’ve had so many successes in the region, but sometimes we’re too humble. There is an opportunity for startups in the city as a whole to brag on the national level, and that will naturally start attracting all those great resources from outside.”

Meanwhile in Detroit, founders think they are held to higher standards than startups in other regions. 

“Here in Michigan, the bar is set a little higher for startups,” said Moody Mattan, CEO of BrandXR. “For example, a startup in Silicon Valley could raise a $1 million pre-seed round with half the metrics of a company in Michigan.”

4. Connections to corporations are a top need. It’s no easy task for a startup to gain access to decision makers at large corporations. Yet the right connections could lead to partnership deals that can dramatically enhance a fledgling business’ chance at success.

“It is tough for a startup to navigate. We know the corporations are looking for innovation and want to invest in it and talk with startups — but it’s hard to talk to the right people and get a deal signed,” said Mattan from Detroit.

Philly entrepreneur Paritosh Gupta agrees. 

“Sometimes it’s really hard if you are an introvert or don’t know the right people in Philly to secure your initial set of customers and get the feedback you need to get product-market fit,” said, co-founder of AI-powered speech coach Orai (a LIFT Labs accelerator company) and coding startup CopyCat. “At Orai, we were able to connect with large teams at Comcast, and that helped us refine our initial product very quickly. If you could do that across other Philly startups, that would be useful — especially for the B2B companies.”

5. Underrepresented founders and funders need more access to funding and corporate partnership opportunities. Leaders in many cities were adamant that more people of color deserve an equal chance at venture capital funding and corporate partnerships. Kevin Cadette, Executive Director of Black Angels Miami, said that happens through exposure and education.

“There are plenty of Black investors out there who are accredited investors but who are not educated in the startup space. I can talk to someone worth tens of millions but won’t have a clue about investing in startups,” said Cadette. “We’re trying to reach them. It is a riskier asset class, but if you don’t invest a little bit of your portfolio in it, you’re missing out.”

In Chicago, Sales-Griffin explained that underrepresented founders and founders may not have the network, capital, opportunities, or education as others. The solution? Support.

“It has to come with a lot of support, a longer ramp when it comes to education, resources, and connectivity,” he said. 

Learn more about startup leadership in

Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit.

And check out our new interactive website to view all city insights.