Ian Hathaway is a man of many talents, wearing hats that include—but are not limited to—that of strategist, economist, writer, and entrepreneur. Currently, Ian is Senior Executive Director at Techstars. In addition to focusing on Techstars, Ian has also authored a book with Brad Feld entitled: The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, and has also been published in the New York Times, The Economist, and Financial Times, etc.
I reconnected with Ian recently, covering a wealth of relevant topics that will help one forge ahead on their entrepenreurial journey alongside Fast Frontiers.
Ian’s vision and hunger for entrepreneurship are in his blood. Ian’s father, Richard Hathaway, was an innovator who has numerous patents attached to his name. But as Ian grew up in a small town, watching his father master innovation yet struggle when it came to the role of entrepreneur, Ian often wondered if things would have been easier if they lived elsewhere—like the meccas of Palo Alto, California, or New York, New York, for example.
This planted a seed early on in Ian, the desire to work to increase the probability of entrepreneurs everywhere to succeed via provision of resources and accessibility. Ian wants to “make sure the Richard Hathaways of the world have the tools that they need regardless of where they choose to live.”
So, how is it possible to get resources for would-be entrepreneurs, specifically in the venture capital realm? Ian starts by pointing to steps cities can take, which he shares is the “Richard Florida creative class train of thought.” Simply put, this comes down to making your city a place that can provide a resounding YES to investors asking the following questions: Is this city cool? Are there other cool people there? Could I see myself there? According to Ian, “That’s how people like me and others make those decisions.” And it does come down to wanting to be in that city and wanting to establish a history there and grow a life there.
Sounds great, but how can this best be achieved, tangibly? Ian offers advice geared toward the mayors and those in charge of economic development in cities. According to Ian, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, as each city is so unique and complex. However, there are simple steps that can ensure success; the first of which is to reach out (and listen) to local entrepreneurs.
Ian pinpoints how pivotal it is to become intimate with entrepreneurs’ needs. Simple questions such as: “What was it like starting out? What kind of challenges did you face? What would you like to see more from us?” are ones that Ian says will lead not only to a deeper understanding but also to vital solutions and improvements.
Further insight comes when Ian mentions his afore mentioned book, The Startup Community Way, which provides a simple framework to help entrepreneurs seeking to build success. One interesting portion of the book introduces what Ian dubs “The Seven Capitals,” which he defines as the factors which are the resources and conditions necessary for entrepreneurship to thrive. Among these factors are financial capital, followed by intellectual capital, human capital, physical capital, cultural capital, and network capital. It’s this holistic perspective that Ian says is the key to success, as many only focus on the financial capital, proving a recipe for disaster—and ultimate implosion.
Ian further simplifies things as he gives the bottom line: For startup success, it is more about quality than quantity. And when it comes to startups, success begets success. If a city can rally around the few companies that show the best chance of success and ensure that they’re successful, then things are likely to spread and bloom from there. And that growth will be both sustainable and robust.
So what magic nugget would Ian pass on to those entrepreneurs who in outlying cities are trying to build their tech-based company there? Just keep doing what you’re doing. Build great companies. And as for the surrounding entrepreneurship community? Keep helping these entrepreneurs in any way possible.
So what’s next for Ian? The sky is the limit, but according to him, he is simply focused on being present in as many communities as possible, helping as many people as he can. I look forward to watching him and his endeavors continue to flourish.