In awards keynote, Cohen calls for “better” Omaha, Des Moines, KC

David Cohen, the co-founder and CEO of TechStars, emphasized the importance of startup communities outside of Silicon Valley during his keynote speech Thursday night at the Silicon Prairie Awards. “All around the world," Cohen said to the crowd at Omaha's Joslyn Art Museum, "Silicon Valley is being challenged." Cohen said TechStars, a …

“Watch out for this community,” David Cohen told people from outside the Midwest in his keynote Thursday at the inaugural Silicon Prairie Awards.

David Cohen, the co-founder and CEO of TechStars, emphasized the importance of startup communities outside of Silicon Valley during his keynote speech Thursday night at the inaugural Silicon Prairie Awards.

“All around the world,” Cohen told the crowd at Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum, “Silicon Valley is being challenged.” 

Cohen said TechStars, his startup accelerator, deliberately opened offices in other locations outside of Silicon Valley. The company originated in Boulder, Colo., but also has offices in Seattle, New York City and Boston.

Cohen said he’s confident startup communities outside of the Valley, like the Silicon Prairie, are going to produce great companies.

“It’s not all happening in the valley,” he said, “and I think (the idea that it is) is bulls—.” 

Here are some of Cohen’s key tips on how to build and maintain a vibrant startup community.

1. Quality, not quantity

Everything startups and investors do, Cohen said, should take a quality over quantity approach, whether it’s the product in the making or an investment into a new company.

2. Focus on neighborhoods

Cohen used the example of New York City’s startup neighborhoods, like Union Square and Brooklyn, to point out that startups congregate geographically as well as socially. These “pockets of activity” benefit the startup community as a whole.

3. Attract fresh meat

With not a lot of inbound flow into the Midwest, it’s important for startups to lure experienced executives from somewhere else.

4. Visible entry points

Make it easy for people outside of the community to engage with it by providing easy ways for them to get in and meet people. 

5. Inclusiveness

“Don’t be cliqueish,” Cohen said. “If people want to engage, you have to let them.”

And finally, Cohen said community leaders must figure out how to fund startups on the Silicon Prairie before they go somewhere else.

“There is no next Silicon Valley,” he said, “only the better Omaha, better Des Moines, the better Kansas City.”

If those cities can realize their potential, Cohen said in closing, people from outside the region will have no choice but to take notice. 

“And for those watching on the live stream,” he said, “watch out for this community because they just might f—ing surprise you.”


Credits: Screenshot of Cohen from Event1 Video


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