The reason some cities become tech hubs has nothing to do with tech

Courtesy of the Denver Startup Week Facebook page

Denver just hosted its annual startup week. I was a part of it, had lots of fun, and met loads of great people. And surprisingly, I may have accidentally found the secret as to why some cities get stronger, create more, and attract people to it while others slowly fade into the background.

During startup week, I heard entrepreneurs give pitches. I went to meetups with other software developers. I whiteboarded with a stranger about their business’ customer acquisition costs (great job leading that workshop, CFOshare). But by far — more than any great single event or feature — the most impressive piece of Denver’s startup scene is how willing the community is to give to each other without expecting anything in return.

There were so many startup week events that one could not hope to attend even 10% of them. That’s not an exaggeration. Some time slots had at least 10 events in the same hour, all in different parts of the city. If you’re someone stricken with FOMO, that might stress you out. But take a step back, and it’s easy to see how powerful the city’s ecosystem must be for so many people to want to give their time and attention away to complete strangers.

And did I mention that almost all of these events were free?

A city that invests in its community without expectation of return will have a harder time tracking ROI. But no city will grow as a region without this kind of investment by its founders.

In it for the long haul

It takes the long-term commitment from leaders (as in 20+ years) for a region to become a tech hub. I’ve been to many cities that proclaim themselves “The Silicon Valley of _____”, be it the east coast, the midwest, central Europe, etc. Some even give themselves cute names like “the Silicon Coast” or “Silicon Glen.” Despite these earnest marketing efforts, the only reason a region has deep roots in anything is that it took the time to grow them.

Giving without the expectation of a return is good. Doing it for years is great. Any parent knows this. You give over and over again, until one day you (hopefully) have a mature, caring, and successful adult in front of you.

Supporting actors

I’m currently in a web development immersive course through General Assembly. I’m learning how to program computers and embrace my inner nerd. It’s great fun. But a newbie like me still needs plenty of support.

I went to a meetup group for Denver-area software developers and was shocked at how active and full the meeting was, with easily a few hundred people over the course of three hours.

Denver has one of the biggest and most active communities for developers out of any city in the country, with thousands of participants. As of writing, the “Denver Devs” Slack channel alone has over 5,000 participants. Anecdotally, it seems like the people on the channel primarily found it through word-of-mouth, just like me.

An ecosystem is just that — a system. There can’t be one or two powerhouses that make the entire machine function. Denver is a city with many people and businesses who seriously want to see it thrive. Many people work in the background and will never share the limelight. Those people give without the expectation of an immediate return because they actually care about the city’s long-term success.

You can’t buy that kind of commitment. But you can invest yourself in it.

developer, writer, marketer, optimist

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