Location, location, location: it matters for any business, not just real estate. My startup has operated under a number of roofs over the years, and each one has had its “leaks.”
First, there was the basement of my home. It was far more spacious and well-equipped than most home offices. Besides, splurging on a rental office was absolutely not an option. Still, our inaccessibility to public transportation and our extremely limited parking capabilities let quality applicants fall through the cracks.
Then, we moved to a shared space within the Crystal Tech Fund headquarters and reveled in the networking opportunities always waiting just a few desks away. However, we missed the closed-door feel of a private office and the freedom to shout ideas across the room if needed.
Now, we have a headquarters in College Park, Md. and a satellite office in San Francisco. Based on my experiences in these vastly different working environments, here are the three similarities that make college towns a great home for startup innovation and investment.
A Wellspring of Young Talent
Both my Silicon Valley and my College Park office receive applications from young, talented developers, salespeople and more. I’m easily priced out of a highly competitive hiring market in the Valley, whereas the College Park applicants who discover us while strolling outside of campus or browsing campus job boards value the experiential benefits just as much as the financial ones.
The Idea Economy
Silicon Valley is posited as where big ideas go, but colleges and universities are where big ideas come from. So while my team members may not have hundreds of accelerators to choose from or a different national conference every month, the University of Maryland in College Park has a number of programs that fill those same needs.
Lifelong learning begins in the classroom and continues through the school’s speaker series, mentorship program and other professional development opportunities. More fundamentally, the community fosters an intellectual curiosity that drives our team members to discover, share and attend networking and learning opportunities every day. As a result, best practices aren’t just shared at a conference on the West Coast. They fill up my email inbox and the agendas of young leaders who value us as an opportunity to test out theories and apply their knowledge.
Unless you’re a new Tesla manufacturing plant, most communities won’t roll out the red carpet for your relocation to their area. Your new office will be a dime a dozen in Silicon Valley, and most community leaders value startups according to what they are rather than what they could become. Not so at the University of Maryland — they worked with us to make our transition as smooth as possible because they recognized our immediate value as a professional development resource for their students.
In fact, I initially misconstrued their above-and-beyond effort as special treatment. Then, I attended the Employer Appreciation dinner. I heard countless stories just like mine: liaisons in the Career Development office who refer students and graduates, introductions to heads of departments, and logistical support for when our Internet crashes. It’s bigger than the favors. The university recently applied for tax breaks for its area businesses under the Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise Zone (R.I.S.E.) program.
I originally chose the University of Maryland because my co-founders and I, as well as many members of my team, already had ties as alumni. Now, as we consider expanding into a neighboring office and purchasing logo tees in Terps red, I can’t think of a better community to call TalkLocal’s home. Sure, compared to Silicon Valley it may have its leaks in terms of venture funding. But even that will come. Because the spirit of this community and those like it form an invisible scaffolding where something really great is being built.