This is part of my Series on Entrepreneurial Culture.
Much as it has with most other sectors, the economic downturn has taken its toll on the early-stage ecosystem. Many angels have curled up into fetal position for a while, a good number of VC funds are simply running on fumes and lots of startups are having a difficult time getting traction and are consequently running out of operating capital. By necessity people keep up appearances but plenty of old hands out there know what the deal is. There’s no getting around it- it’s just been tough.
I won't descend into cliché by expounding upon the inevitable “silver-lining” or the “positives” in all this. I will simply say that I have observed that a by-product of these trying times has been a sense of clarity imposing itself almost everywhere. Everything has become very basic in that so many early-stage companies are simply fighting to survive and to get through all this. Entrepreneurs are in hard-core bootstrap mode, the universities and the city are pitching-in trying to do their part, and the local entrepreneurship communities are congregating and banding together like they never have before. There’s something absolutely special going on in this city and I’ve been heartened by it. In my work as an entrepreneur in the university space and as an angel I have the privilege of meeting and working with dozens of entrepreneurial teams each year and the camaraderie and enthusiasm so many of them possess in the face of all this is inspiring.
There’s something else that has been reinforced to me in all this. It’s what I call the “X Factor” in business. When someone in a university lab for example, makes a shocking scientific breakthrough in an area with a large commercial market- it is as if there were never such a thing as a recession. The sun suddenly emerges in full force and the dark skies are a distant memory. Investors and entrepreneurs get on planes, trains and automobiles from near and far and converge in full force- money is suddenly plentiful, the absence of a management team is a mere detail and the future is unlimited. The somber story-line I’ve painted in the paragraphs above (and that the media repeats ad-nauseum) is suddenly rendered meaningless. When Vinod Khosla decides to raise a couple of new clean tech funds, again, the mainstream narrative is eviscerated and he raises over one billion dollars with a wave of his hand. Similarly, when the likes of an Andreessen feels it’s his turn, a cool $300 million plus materializes for his new fund.
My message in all this? Simply that nothing is as it seems. That the “new story” can be written at any time, by anyone, regardless of the conventional mainstream narrative or the state of the economy. If you’ve got a me-too company or an incremental improvement on a product that already exists, or if you’re not fully committed to the venture- well, it’s a safe bet that convention will apply. But if you’ve got something magnificent, something bold and clever and possibly disruptive, well then… you may yourself be that “X-Factor” and if so, anything is possible.
For Part Fourteen in in this Series, click here