After spending a few days hanging out with Brad Feld, I’ve come to the conclusion that Startup Communities is not simply a book targeted at the minority of the population who currently identify themselves as entrepreneurs. What Brad is working on is actually much bigger. My conclusion stems from the idea that he left ringing in my head following his visit to Kentucky: “Every city was once a startup.”
I spent most of this morning researching the history of the founding of my city, Lexington, Kentucky. As Brad discussed his thoughts about startup communities, he kept referring to the “natural resources” present in a community. In the early days of the geographic area that would come to be known as Kentucky, a few people made the conscious choice to settle here. While their decision was not fully informed (they did not yet have TripAdvisor to review all the possible places to settle on the North American continent), they did the best they could with the available information in the late 1700s. They actively chose the Bluegrass region for its fertile soil, access to fresh water, and moderate climate. For a startup agrarian community, these are key ingredients. For a startup technology community, the key ingredients are much less geophysical. They’re human. As codified in Brad’s book, these ingredients include leadership by entrepreneurs, a long-term growth perspective, an inclusive culture, and events that engage and connect all members of the community.
I spent most of last evening discussing the fertile nature of Lexington with my friends over drinks. We’ve come to realize that our city has an abundance of untapped human potential: a core of stable employers, a continuous influx of smart people, and a sufficient mix of risk-taking individuals. It’s also a really enjoyable place to live, with good food, plenty of shopping, modern electricity/water/internet infrastructure, a swath of housing options, and a variety of entertainment choices. Yesterday, as we partook in some of the excellent nightlife offerings, it might have been apropos that we began our evening in Henry Clay’s Public House. Prior to becoming a statesman on the national scale, Henry Clay was not only a successful lawyer, but also an agricultural entrepreneur. Next, we moved to Lexington Beer Works, a recent addition to Lexington’s bar scene, with a host of specialty and craft brews. It’s no accident that this location has become one of the staple hangouts for the tech and entrepreneur crowd. Among its group of founders are veterans of Lexmark, the city’s largest technology company. To conclude our evening, we grabbed a snack from Dogs for Cats, a sidewalk vendor so-named for selling specialty hot dogs to the local populace of UK Wildcat fans. We paid for this food through Square, closing the loop on our tech-startup-community-time-warp of an evening.
Brad Feld has an assertion that “we can create startup communities anywhere”. There are two ways to read into this. One perspective is that we can create communities of startups (ie local groupings of early-stage technology companies). The other is to redefine how we view the general concept of “community”, through the innovation-centric lens of startups. Our communities, whether they’re local or virtual, official or informal, are forever imperfect and constantly changing. Yet, a core piece of human nature is an affinity for other human beings. We join together as sports teams, volunteer groups, and book clubs. We can’t help but form communities. But what if we more consciously formed our communities? The innovation frameworks used by startups are applicable far beyond the creation of technology companies. What if governments a/b tested as effectively as Google? What if schools iterated as quickly as Skype? Essentially, startup methods enable human organizations to take advantage of biologically-inspired innovation processes. And biology is pretty good at innovation.
Thus, my take-away from Brad’s visit is two-fold. On the surface, he provided excellent suggestions for building our community of technology company people (and reinforcement for some of the things we’re already doing well). Yet, perhaps more importantly, he reminded me that what we’re doing is much bigger. While companies focus on creating tangible products and delivering valuable services, the true end result is a more abstract thing known as a better life. The identities of some of the greatest innovators are often tied to their products, but the lasting impact that they have had is actually through the communities and lifestyles they created. Even in the case of Steve Jobs, it could be argued that, “Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.” John Gruber’s statement about Jobs includes a note about self-similar fractal design, a math reference that I’m sure Brad would enjoy. This distinction is important, so I’ll be explicit: the way we build our products, should be the way we build our companies, should be the way we build our cities, should be the way we build our world. Perhaps the Boulder startup community’s greatest creation isn’t Storage Technology Corporation ($4.1B acquisition), or TechStars (top accelerator program), but Boulder itself. By turning Boulder’s lessons into a book, Brad has articulated a new way for creating and re-creating our cities. That’s big.
If you’d like to experience the vision for Lexington that my co-founders and I share, I invite you to visit us at Awesome Inc. It’s our 6000-square-foot prototype of the future of this city.
Sorry to disappoint, but this post isn’t about basketball. It’s about something bigger: life.
My perspective is that of an entrepreneur, so my bellwether is the startup scene. But I’d argue that it’s a pretty good bellwether. At our core, we entrepreneurs are people who want to make the world a better place. We recognize problems, and instead of idle bantering, we create solutions. And we’ll risk everything to turn our vision of a better world into a reality. When you put enough of these people in a community, these powerful forces for artistic/musical/philanthropic/commercial good, life in that community gets better.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending two discussions on the relationship between entrepreneurs and investors in Kentucky. The first event was run by the Lexington Venture Club, who hosted a group of women entrepreneurs and investors from Lexington and Louisville. The second was through the Louisville Digital Association, who hosted a group of entrepreneurs and investors from Louisville and Lexington. That’s right, people from Louisville and Lexington, traveling to each other’s cities, on a random weekday in the middle of March, and passionately discussing something that isn’t basketball. What they discussed is much more important. Very few people are directly affected by the outcome of a basketball game. Nearly everyone is affected by technology. Nearly everyone is affected by the economy. And startups have a massive effect on both.
How do I know that Kentucky is going to win? Because we want it. Because we’re working together to do it. And we won’t stop until we get it.
Life is not static, it is in motion. That is why I chose to become a mechanical engineer. I really like stuff that moves. I am going to ride my mechanical bicycle home shortly. While doing so, my lungs will exchange oxygen with the atmosphere and my heart will move blood throughout my body through pressure differentials. My great mission in life is to improve the way people move about the world. Just like horses, carriages, and steam engines, cars have seen their time come, and now it is quickly departing. With the advent of ‘internet everywhere‘, my commute is no longer about getting to where I am going so that I can start work. I can start work on the way. Heck, for must stuff I don’t even need to be in a communal, or even static, location. The downfall of the reliance on personal automobiles in suburban America, however, is that I cannot safely and legally do my work (or have my fun, for that matter) while transporting myself. My time in the car is lost time, and soon others will realize that their commutes are nothing but a frustrating waste of their most valuable resource.
My friend and roommate Phillip realizes how valuable his time is. But he is stuck in a rut when it comes to finding a good alternative to his commute. In July, Phillip will marry his high-school sweetheart and move to Louisville, where his fiancée has a nice job as an actuary. The problem, however, is that Phildo is just starting the second year of his PhD program in Materials Science and Engineering…in Lexington. Each day, he will give up three hours of his productive time in order to move his body from Louisville to Lexington and back. While PhD’s are sometimes mocked for viewing their bodies solely as transport mechanisms for their brains, these intellectuals are a vital part of our society. Without people like Phillip who push the boundaries of modern science and technology, America would not be the country that it is today. This is why I am so bothered that Phillip’s only viable option to commute between Kentucky’s two largest cities is to drive his personal automobile. How will America reclaim its title as the world’s economic superpower when our brightest citizens must trade several hours each day of productive life for a monotonous stint behind a steering wheel?
This is a the problem I want to solve in my lifetime.
Inspired by a similar shirt I found in NYC, I’ve wanted a good way to proclaim to the world that I love riding my bike in KY. What’s not to love about forests full of cross-country MTB trails and an abundance of rolling hills navigable by horse farm-lined roads? While our state’s marketers often proclaim the merits of Kentucky’s equine heritage, Bourbon, and Bluegrass music, cycling may be our best-kept secret. Well, time to let the cat out of the bag:
The shirts go on sale Friday, May 14th for $15. Let me know if you want one!
While I’m excited to wear these shirts, and see them on other cyclists in KY, what really moves me is the opportunity to use this to benefit less fortunate cyclists in the area. While many commuter cyclists (like myself) choose their mode of transport based on preference, for others, it is the only viable option. The latter group is well-represented by men at Lexington’s Hope Center. Walking into the building on Loudon Ave, the dozens of bikes overflowing from racks make it obvious that residents rely on two-wheeled, self-propelled vehicles. Unfortunately, many of the bikes are in disrepair, inhibiting residents from effectively transporting themselves around Lexington.
While at a BPAC meeting on May 7th, I learned about an initiative to help the residents of the Hope Center overcome this challenge. By providing bicycle repair equipment and lessons, residents will be able to maintain their own bicycles to ensure a reliable, sustainable transportation option. Think teach-a-man-to-fish (we just need a few fishing poles). With help from a few of the local bike shops, all that’s needed to make this a reality is $300. That’s where you come in. By helping me sell 60 t-shirts, we can raise enough money to accomplish this first goal. Then, phase 2: lighting systems for all the Hope Center’s commuter cyclists!
Here are a few ways you can help:
During Now What Lexington, Scott Clark and I discussed the mountain bike situation in Lexington. There is currently only one recognized trail in the city, at Veterans Park. Our friends at OutrageGIS have compiled a very nice map of the park, displaying the nearly 2.5 miles of singletrack. While I am proud that there is at least one trail in our city, it is rather limited in both distance and degree of difficulty. When I lived in Louisville, I was blessed with the ability to ride from my home to the Briar Hill trail (very technical, beautiful area), or take a short drive from work to trails at Cherokee or Seneca parks. Besides Veterans, the next closest trail to Lexington is in Frankfort’s Capitol View park. It is a great trail, but hardly a convenient after-work jaunt.
In our discussion, Scott told me about the great variety of trails he experienced while living in Northern California. After a long day of work, they were a very inviting reason to get out and exercise while enjoying nature. I have heard similar testimonials from friends in Seattle and Boulder, who love where they live because of the ease to go from office to wild trail in under 30 minutes. The only thing that seems to be standing between Lexington and the enjoyment of local MTB trails is our willingness to build. So, I wrote a letter…
Hello Parks and Rec!
I participated in a QOL focus group with Jerry Hancock yesterday, and didn’t get to speak with him before I left. Jerry mentioned the desire to modernize Lexington’s park system, and I was curious if this includes plans to add new Mountain Bike trails?
During the Creative Cities Summit and Now What Lexington, Scott Clark brought to my attention that Lexington has only one MTB trail (Veterans Park), and a short, entry level one at that. I noticed that it is not even designated on your trails list.
While I am excited about the quality of life benefits brought on by the pavement-type Legacy and Town Branch trails, I think that our city would be further enhanced by the addition of at least one new off-road MTB trail. Mountain biking is very popular among the creative class, the type of people our city is seeking to attract. Similar to hikers, mountain bikers crave an intimate experience with nature, and are inclined to preserve and maintain the environments in which they ride. As Central Kentucky seeks new ways to connect citizens and visitors to our region’s natural beauty, I think we would be remiss to move forward without plans for a new MTB trail in Fayette County.
How can I help make this a reality?
I am excited for a response from Parks and Rec as to how citizens can help add a new trail and improve the quality of life in Lexington. I think this project will be a good complement to improved nightlife options in downtown, a more appropriate variety of housing near the city’s core, better public transportation, and stronger ties between the city and its three institutions of higher education, especially from the point of view of the creative class.
So, here’s what needs to happen:
- Get feedback from Parks and Rec (history of MTB in Lex, market demographics, regulations)
- Select a site (preferably close enough to ride from downtown to trailhead, yet with beautiful and challenging terrain)
- Learn how to build a trail (any experts here in Lex?)
- Invite all our friends to ride
I am neither an expert on trail building nor the most avid mountain biker in Lexington. I’m just a guy who loves every minute I spend on two wheels, and wants to share that joy with others. Will you help me?
The digging was worth it! Got some excellent news back from LFUCG and Pedal Power. In addition to upgrades to Veterans Park, construction is underway on a new trail in Scott County. Details from LFUCG:
Thank you for your interest in mountain biking in Fayette County and Veterans Park.
The MB trails at Veterans developed unofficially over the years and are not designed to recognized safety and sustainability standards. Therefore, we didn’t feel it was prudent to “sanction” their use officially.
However, we currently have a contract with CDP Engineering to re-design the trail(s) and expand them to include 4 levels of difficulty as per national mb standards. We’ve had 2 public meetings which were heavily attended by members of the local chapter of the National Mountain Bike Association.
Using input from the association members and that of general public novice riders who also attended the meetings, we developed the attached plan. We are in the final stages of revision to a couple sections and working toward advertising bids for construction very soon.
We anticipate that current available funds will only cover the initial construction of the trail surface (and we won’t be sure how much until bids come in). We have talked to many local mountain bikers about organizing volunteer work groups to build many of the “events” along the more difficult trails once the trails are in place.
Joining KYMBA would provide a means for you to be updated about all mountain biking activities in the surrounding area. Here is a link to their website http://www.kymba.org
You can also watch this website for information about all types of local biking events, planning, advocacy and volunteer opportunities: http://www.bikelexington.com
I hope this information is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to contact me again if you have questions.
Michelle Kosieniak, RLA
Supt. of Planning & Design
LFUCG Division of Parks and Recreation
469 Parkway Dr., Lexington, KY 40504
…a nationally accredited Parks & Recreation agency
(859) 288-2982 office
(859) 489-9759 cell
(859) 288-2999 fax
And from Pedal Power about MTB Trail Building in Scott County:
Nick, thanks for your interest! The regional chapter of the KY Mountain Bike Association is in the process of buiding an 8-10 mile mtb trail in Scott County outside of Stamping Ground. Different groups are taking responsibility for ensuring different sections get built and Pedal Power has committed to building 2.3 miles of the total trail network with the help of our customers and other volunteers from the community. We will be out working on the trail every Sunday in May (weather permitting) from 10am-2pm. The best bet for keeping up to date is to check our shop’s page on Facebook. There is also a Google group for volunteers with some good information on it that I am sending you an invitation to join if you’d like. It’d be great to see you out one Sunday! Let me know if I missed anything or you have any further questions! -John
Check out Skull Buster trail volunteers, and their work building a new set of MTB trails in Scott County, near Stamping Ground.
Here are some pics from today’s 2ndSunday event. It started with an hour-long bike tour of Lexington’s Higher Education Triangle (Transy, BCTC, UK), then returned to a pedestrian-only Short Street for the Best of the Bluegrass Chili Cookoff and some live music from BOBO.
I can’t think of a better way to spend to enjoy 72 and sunny.
April 8th was One Day Without Shoes, spearheaded by TOMS Shoes to evangelize the plight of children around the world who don’t have shoes. Hitting close to home, Booneville, KY was the site of a TOMS shoe drop. For these kids, lack of shoes means reduced access to education and increased incidence of disease. For me, walking barefoot was an interesting exploration of the most basic form of human transportation.
Events like this are the epitome of social entrepreneurship, combining the support of a worthy cause with a brilliant marketing plan and a sustainable business model. That’s why TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie‘s picture hangs on our Rockstar Wall at Awesome Inc, and why I’ll be highlighting his story in my talk at Saturday’s Appalachian IDEAS conference.
Thanks to “Cool”, avid TOMS fan and member of Team Alpha, I was inspired to spend most of my day barefoot. It was amazing how strange I felt in the beginning, leaving my house without shoes on. I quickly discovered how painfully uneven the sidewalks are in my neighborhood. Next came the realization of how much slower I was moving compared to my normally hurried pace. I noticed my feet garnering plenty of strange looks as I progressed through campus to meet up with 50 other barefoot marchers. It would have been great to see more people participate in the walk, but it sparked plenty of curiosity from onlookers, who were eager to learn why a pack of young people were traversing UK’s campus with naked feet. After the walk, I continued on to Awesome Inc. At the completion of my 1.3 mile journey, my dogs were tired and slightly blackened. After a few hours of touch screen business development work, I had a hankering for a sandwich. Although weary of potential rejection, I strolled into the nearest sandwich shop, and was delighted to order my favorite #13 sub without a hitch. I’m not sure they even noticed I was barefoot! Sandwich in hand, I set out to find the latest copy of Ace Weekly to read about “Techsington”, which highlighted some of the great things going on for Technology Month in Lexington. Once I finished lunch and discussed user interfaces with some brilliant UK Computer Science seniors, I set out for a half-mile walk to help Shannon, one of the founders of Nextington 4, move some furniture. Following the return trip to Awesome Inc and a shoeless meeting, I finally gave in and put on my sandals for the No Mercy gaming event at Bakers360.
The great thing about this day without shoes is that it still hasn’t ended. When I take a shower tonight to wash the road grime off my feet, I will be thinking about the kids who don’t have that opportunity each day. When I wake up tomorrow and my feet are still sore, I will compare my meager daily trek to the meandering voyage that kids in Ethiopia take across harsh volcanic soil. Will I buy a pair of TOMS Shoes tomorrow? Probably not. But the next time I’m in the market, I will think about how my feet feel right now, and consider whether Sketchers or Asics are doing anything to prevent that feeling for kids around the world.
As an engineer, I was rather curious about the effect of different pathway surfaces on the comfort of my feet. Here’s how Lexington’s surfaces ranked:
- Grass: like heaven to sensitive feet
- Carpet: not painful, but the uniform texture is uninteresting to my toes
- Asphalt: when well-traveled, the smoothing effect of tire rubber accumulation is pleasant
- Concrete: predictable when smoothed, providing decent distribution of force
- Gravel: about as painful as those sharp edges look
- Raised aggregate: deceivingly painful, unpredictable. There’s a reason I seldom walk barefoot on my parent’s driveway.
- Steel access grates: stay off
- Time barefoot: 12 hrs
- Distance walked barefoot: 1.3+1+.5=2.8mi
- Average temperature: 54 deg F
- Precipitation: 0.34 in
- Sandwiches purchased from restaurant while barefoot: 1