Christian Renaud encouraged Summit attendees to be proud of the Midwest startup style in his morning keynote.
Christian Renaud, a co-founder of the technology startup incubator StartupCity Des Moines, focused on the idea of the Silicon Prairie ecosystem in kicking off the sixth annual Nebraska Summit on Entrepreneurship on Friday. “You not only own your own future, your own entrepreneurial endeavors,” Renaud said during the morning keynote at the Embassy Suites Conference Center in La Vista, “but as part of this ecosystem, part of the Silicon Prairie ecosystem, you own the development of that as well.”
Renaud emphasized four points in his discussion of the Midwest startup style:
“We are very pragmatic as Midwesterners,” Renaud said, “and something that we do very well is face reality.”
He said the reality we must face as entrepreneurs in the Midwest is that, in order to make our entrepreneurial ecosystem thrive, we must work together as a region. We are unique because we don’t have that same keeping up with the Joneses mentality found in Silicon Valley or Boston, he said. Our goal as a region is not to compete against one another but instead to play to our strengths.
“The advantage we have is that we’re practicing asymmetric warfare,” Renaud told the audience. “We are smaller, more nimble, more responsive, with all of these natural strengths.” These strengths include advanced manufacturing, biotechonology and IT. While we may not be able to duplicate what is happening in The Valley, that scenario probably wouldn’t be a good fit for the region anyway. We are based upon Midwestern values, and those values have the potential to make us wildly successful in our own way.
“We have a great opportunity,” Renaud said, “and quite frankly, we have the advantage that we can put in a whole new system of funding, of incubation, that is focused on the startups, focused on the entrepreneurs and not focused on everything around it.”
Renaud said we can certainly learn from startups in other regions of the country but that just because something works one place does not mean it will work here. Instead, Renaud said, we have a chance to capitalize on a brand new opportunity to build something even better, from the ground up. With lower costs of living and lower wages as a result, we can hire people who are just as good as those on the coasts, if not better, and hire more of them for less cost to the startup.
He said population concentration in Midwest cities lends itself to building a stronger infrastructure and entrepreneurial ecosystems because “the opportunity to do things like co-working spaces, incubators and mentorship programs, university programs is that much greater.” Reaching the vast majority of the population with programs in a smaller number of key cities is also more economical and yet another advantage for the Midwest, Renaud said.
“What we need to do as a region and as a city here is break down all those barriers,” Renaud said. “Take down walls. I’m not saying do away with these organizations; but all the walls, all the fortifications that keep people from working with each other, our job is to systematically dismantle those. That war is over.”
In the end, it’s not about who gets the credit, Renuad said. It’s about working together. It’s about attending conferences, meetups and hackathons. It’s about finding someone who says “Oh you’re working on that space? I’m working on that space too!” in order to find someone else who can join in on your project and potentially help you take it to the next level that you hadn’t envisioned before.
Renaud encouraged participants to get out and share with everybody, or become part of the horizontal sharing of information, going as far as calling that the most valuable part of the experience as an entrepreneur. “The more environments you can create that are not walled off, that are no cubicled off, that allow people to share information, if those are wikis, if those are face-to-face interactions, if those are mixers, the more of those you have the more successful you will be,” he said.
Shut up and build it
“Go do it,” Renaud said. “Don’t hesitate. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t even ask for forgiveness. Just go build it. Build whatever you need because as entrepreneurs you’re in charge of your own destiny.”
Entrepreneurs are those people unwilling to wait for someone else to tell them to do something, Renaud said, and with the unique resources of the Midwest as well as a chance to completely rethink the infrastructure on which startups are built, entrepreneurs are the future of our region. “At the end of the day,” he said, “you go home and you build something, you make somebody some money and you save them some time in exchange for your sweat, and to change the world from what it currently is.”
He said that with resources to draw on and conferences like the Summit to inspire, all that’s left to do is create. Renaud’s final thought brought it back to the pragmatic nature of Midwestern entrepreneurs. “Really, it’s about taking that ownership position and that passion in your environment and then just going after it,” Renaud said. “That’s it. That’s how we farm. That’s how we build equipment. That’s how we build companies.”
Credits: Photo by Amy Engle.