Much like a hipster with a good mustache, referring to your city as a haven for startups is rather “in” right now. Startup hubs are currently popping up in the older Rustbelt cities where manufacturing once led the way.
Several cities – Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Nashville, and Louisville – are making strong runs at realistically developing ecosystems that accommodate hungry entrepreneurs much like Austin, Seattle and Charlotte have previously over the past two decades.
But once the essential elements are in place to create the ecosystem and support startups – venture capital, incubators, accelerators, mentoring and more – how do cities attract entrepreneurs? How do they rebrand themselves as fertile territory for startups, effectively articulating a story and reshaping perception?
There are a number of vital processes, tools, and subtleties that are essential to a startup hub’s success. They include:
- Start with the hardest part — ensure the influencers of the region are on the same page, understanding the essential need for nurturing startups as a means to a productive economic future.
- Develop a strong, realistic messaging platform with minimal corporate speak (avoid terms like “disruptive” and “revolutionary”) about the region’s commitment to nurturing startups.
- Create a central online hub – a website that is clear, concise and easily navigable — to tell the story through a steady drumbeat of original and aggregated content.
- Linking to original and aggregated content housed on various platforms that highlights startup activities in the region. I recommend a customer relationship management tool like that developed by St. Louis startup Hatchbuck or the better-known MailChimp to reach investors and entrepreneurs. Don’t push information too frequently (maybe once a month), minimize fluff, and use real numbers (investor fundraises, partnerships with larger conglomerates, and so on).
- This might be the hardest part for CEOs or non-communicators — but try to understand how media actually works. Reporters don’t tend to write a lot of feature pieces on individual slices of life, they don’t care about how great you think your company is, but they will pay attention to broader trends. Grasping this is half the battle, and then you simply need to know who is covering startups, small business, or entrepreneurism and build relationships with them.
- Create compelling social media content such as short video pieces, interesting infographics, and thought pieces, like blog posts or op-eds. Then actively manage the online communities and create a detailed yet flexible content calendar that guides sharing the content through social channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, and to a lesser degree, on Facebook.
- Create a signature event or series of events showcasing bright local minds and helping connect locals with nationally respected entrepreneurs and investors.
- Employ a search engine optimization strategy that pushes your region higher in search rankings for terms like “startups,” “small business,” and “entrepreneurism.” Beyond the technical aspects of SEO, building and attracting links from other sites is fundamental to greater search visibility.
- While SEO is a longer-term strategy to drive traffic, use paid search more quickly obtain high quality traffic.
- Invest in an experiential mobile unit takes the regional startup experience to targeted conferences and other key events.
If the pieces are in place, rebranding a region as a startup hub isn’t brain surgery. It just takes a disciplined, all-in approach that removes parochialism, with influencers and young minds (translation: Not just old rich white people) rowing in the same direction, employing a well-informed communications strategy that is in touch with the realities of today’s media world.