Jul 262012

Hey Virginia!  Yeah, I’m talking to YOU! Your days of having a legitimate excuse not to be a startup hub are over. Virginia, I’m calling you out. Virginia is rarely if ever talked about in relation to startups at all. In fact, at an event recently in Washington D.C., (a startup hub itself,) Maryland was talked about more than Virginia as a startup hub. And this is ridiculous.

Today, you were named the second best state in the nation for business for the second year in a row. So now with the best public university system per capita (by far) and one of the best university systems in general, what’s your excuse for not being a startup hub?

You may say, “but Tommy, just because our universities are great, it doesn’t mean that they’re built to foster startups.”

I would say,  ”A fair point Virginia, except that’s it’s COMPLETE HOOEY!”

Consider the strengths of Virginia’s universities:

#1 Graduate Marketing program in the WORLD – the Brandcenter at VCU
#1/top3 Undergraduate Business School in US – McIntire at UVa
#23 Engineering School in US and it’s HUGE – Virginia Tech
#13 Graduate Business School in US – Darden at UVa
#1 Undergraduate Arts School in US – VCU

That’s not even mentioning top tier Virginia universities/colleges Washington and Lee and William and Mary, whose strengths and statistics I don’t know as well. By the way, UVa and William and Mary were just ranked the #1 and #2 non-military public universities in the nation by Forbes as well (or tied #2 and #6 for US News and World Report).

Okay, so we can’t argue that Virginia isn’t a great state for business with a ton of young talent tailored perfectly for founding startups. But is that REALLY the formula for a strong startup scene?

Look, there’s no formula for a strong startup scene, but when we look at the traditional startup hubs I think we can see some patterns.

Silicon Valley/San Francisco
New York City
Washington D.C.

You’ll notice that two of those cities are world business and government centers and two of those cities are centers for great universities or innovation centers. Silicon Valley has Stanford and many early great computer tech companies, and Boston has like a bajillion great schools such as Harvard, Tufts, BU, etc.

But have those universities produced great startups? Ever heard of Google or Facebook? I figured that you had.

Virginia, you may say, “But we ARE a startup hub! The founders of Reddit and Divvyshot went to UVa, and Blacksburg is the home to Eric Schmidt, Rackspace, and many promising startups.”

And Virginia, you’d be right about that buddy. Old friend, you’ve got a lot of great startups past and present scattered around the state. But does anybody talk about them? Do any of them credit Virginia for their success? Most important to me: do investors see Virginia as a talent center?

Look Virginia, I’m not a whiner. I know the money is supposed to follow talent, but with all the considerable wealth centered in and around Virginia, finding seed funding for startups in Virginia is border-line impossible. Reddit and Divvyshot didn’t get funded in Virginia, they got funded by Y Combinator. You can’t tell me the talent isn’t here, it’s just that the money isn’t following it. Because the money is too conservative.

Look at the investments that groups like Amplifier Ventures, GIT Gap, Virginia Active Angels, and others have made. Any of those companies look like they’re going to change the world? No. They’re low risk, moderate growth companies or companies in low risk sectors of infrastructure improvement and back-end system engineering.

Is this their fault? I don’t think so. I think it’s reflective of the attitude here, which is that people want to support business but won’t put their money where their mouth is when it comes to early stage, disruptive businesses. Virginia, correct me if I’m wrong, but tell me the most recent groundbreaking company funded in Virginia? I actually know one, but it’s an investment firm running out of Mountain View, and the fact that it’s funded in Virginia is not publicized. Think about it: the most groundbreaking company funded out of Virginia right now is a company investing in other companies IN SILICON VALLEY, CALIFORNIA! And we don’t have any seed fund incubators (outside of Darden’s internal incubator) here at home. I mean, Virginia, is this okay with you?

Virginia, I’ve said my piece. When you’re willing to step up to the plate and put your money where your mouth is, please give me a call. You’ve got my number. My email is tommy@thecityswig.com if you don’t have it, twitter is @istommydrunk. Oh and Bob McDonnell, thanks for giving Startup America’s (s.co) Virginia branch the run around and eventually not providing capital. You’re aces. You should DEFINITELY be Vice-President of the country currently going through a full blown jobs crisis. You’re super qualified.

 Posted by at 12:49 pm

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