Michelle From Houston: How To Explain Startups To An Outsider

I found the startup community at the University of Illinois and never looked back. When I moved out of the thriving Chicago ecosystem and two-stepped down to Houston, Texas, I tried explaining the significance of a strong entrepreneurial environment to a Texan friend.

“I just don’t get the point of co-working spaces. If you’re all working on different projects, how does that help you? I mean really, what’s the deal with these startup communities anyways?”

How does one explain a startup community to an outsider?

I started with what I know best: Chicago. Here’s what makes the entrepreneurial world go round, as told by a post grad, twenty something.

It starts with one person. The one with a simple life experience that makes them ask why. That questions standards and business as usual. The inquisitive spirit, passionate enough to address the issue, inspiring enough to show the value and tactful enough to recruit others. The entrepreneur.

It intrigues creative minds to come together. Opposites attract, but creative minds attract better. Unleash an idea into a sea of people like Chicago, and out of the woodwork inspired minds will come. And as conversations start, groups with forward-thinking values begin to form. The independent artists who yearned for creative freedom like Design Cloud; the seasoned entrepreneurs who wanted to help women like Strategiz. The connectors.

It inspires everyone in its path. As startups begin redesigning the processes of today to create a better tomorrow, larger corporations and companies begin taking note. The infectious spirit of entrepreneurship trickles through organizations. And soon forward-thinking companies like Resolute Consulting start acknowledging the new market and business opportunity it creates.

It flourishes in a bounty of resources. While the entrepreneurial spirit sprouts on its own, the decision makers in the city can dramatically impact the acceleration of growth. From building incubators and co-working spaces like 1871, to providing resources like the CEC, TEC and other 3 letter acronyms, the city resources nourish it with support.

Because when you put a bunch of innovative, intelligent people together, amazing things start happening. People start executing inventive ideas. They start bridging connections with nuggets of knowledge, turning concepts upside down and pulling bunnies out of regular hats. The real magic doesn’t happen on MTV cribs, the real magic happens in a startup community.
After spending time in Chicago, it all made perfect sense to me: the power of an idea, the heart wrenchting determination to succeed, the passionate people and the energy behind it all. While I’m still trying to figure out how to get these cowboy boots off, I’m excited to get my feet wet in the entrepreneurial waters here in Texas. So Houston folks, how would you explain your startup community to an outsider?

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What others say about : Michelle From Houston: How To Explain Startups To An Outsider..


I’m not from Texas (as you know, MLenz) but to me entrepreneurship is about re-imagining the world not as it is, but as it could be. It’s about identifying real problems and creating real, sustainable, solutions. It’s about pushing things forward.
Great post.


@bgtrotter Right on- that’s exactly what the mantra of the Valley was in the 90s.  Not, “lets build another Groupon clone” but, “How can we make the world better?”  Success was a by-product of this kind of thinking.  I agree with you


@bgtrotter Thanks Brent! I’m so intrigued by the process of shifting design to change outcomes. Did you perchance see Leyla Acaroglu’s talk on sustainability at TED2013? Here’s a little recap: http://blog.ted.com/2013/02/27/paper-or-plastic-or-what-leyla-acaroglu-at-ted2013/From making daily choices like paper or plastic to thinking about the food waste problem in terms of the design of fridges,  I think a forward thinking mindset like Acaroglu’s is crucial in creating sustainable entrepreneurship for the future.


@mechellesays  I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s on the to to-watch list now. Along with a few other TED talks. Thanks for the reco.


On the cusp…
I’ve heard Marc Nathan explain where we are in the “startup” lifecycle of a city and we are in the early stages.  The ecosystem is growing not just in quantity of those involved, but also in the quality of the right mix of people.  I’m of the opinion that big things will happen soon.  I’m not sure if startups will rise from the shadows of Big Oil, Energy, Healthcare and others, but as the workforce gets younger in this are and as schools like U of H with Red Labs becomes more prominent, I’m convinced we’re about to take off.  The key will be will we have the right mix of enterprise and consumer going forward for people to take notice.  There is no wrong answer.  But it would be great if Houston has that one startup that takes off that helps to blaze the trail to continue to flourish the ecosystem that also gets us out of the shadows of Austin (and I have no issues with Austin).


@wayne_lopez St. louis is imilar- its exciting to be in a city where things are just starting to pop isn’t it?  I’m glad we have Michelle as ‘boots ont he ground’ in Houston to share the great stuff happening there


@wayne_lopez Though my interactions with the entrepreneurs in Houston have only just begun,  I’ve already met so many passionate people.  It does seem like there is some fragmentation in the startup community among the different sectors and types of companies. Yet I think the energy and desire to change this is definitely there. At the last event I attended, the Q and A became heated as the entrepreneurs questioned why there is such a divide between healthcare tech and funding in Houston when we’re sitting on the largest medical center in the world. Even for startups in other sectors–Houston is the 4th largest city and the land of opportunity, bringing people like myself from all over.  So we have the people, the ideas, the energy and the vision that this can be something greater. I have to say I’m with you on this Wayne, Houston’s about to take off. I mean c’mon, we even have a NASA Space Center here! Time to suit up and grab the helmets, who’s with me?


@mechellesays   definitely with you and you’ll probably find the hungry collective of the Startup Houston crew is right along.  While my startup, Ayoopa, in getting set to launch, we are one of the few in Houston with a consumer focus.  Many say that can’t be done and that we’ll have to make it in Austin.  But, our goal is to make it happen here.  I feel like Houston is the underdog, the Rocky Balboa, the New Orleans Saints in 2009 (sorry that was the NOLA in me ;-).  So yes, we do need to come together and much has been done to address this and I credit the co-working spaces that have popped up from Start, to CoInside, to Platform for trying to centralize the efforts.  We still have a ways to go, but we are hungry!

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