Such a buzz in Rochester these days! New restaurants are opening (anyone else tried Bitter Honey yet?), cultural institutions are expanding (see the Inner Loop proposal from The Strong Museum of Play), and Amazon's new headquarters (HQ2) is actually a possibility.
What's driving all of this activity? In my opinion, three things: startup capital, successful entrepreneurs, and a culture of inclusion.
A friend (my wife says I use the term too loosely ...) wrote a book called Startup Communities, and in it, Brad Feld describes some of the prerequisites for building a vibrant startup ecosystem, including the need for plentiful sources of capital to fund and grow businesses. We're fortunate to have groups like Excell Partners, the Rochester Angel Network, Impact Capital, the RIT Venture Fund, the University of Rochester Simon School Venture Fund, the Cayuga Venture Fund, Rand Capital, and more deploying more than $100 million within 60 miles, from seed through mezzanine rounds. We already have the intellectual capital - we are home to 19 colleges and universities with 86,000 enrolled students, and we rank #13 for patents per capita - and now we have the funding available to help startups grow and prosper.
Every community has successful entrepreneurs, but we have a history of entrepreneurship - from George Eastman's lasting legacy to a newer crop of serving leaders, we have a trove of entrepreneurs that aren't selfish. Here are three examples:
Another two friends, Aaron Newman and Aaron Klein, co-founded a company called Cloudcheckr, which provides a software service to businesses that use Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, and they are constantly giving back - meeting with startups, volunteering at nonprofits, and backing efforts to help entice Amazon HQ2 to our region. In fact, in a recent Moody's report, Rochester NY was ranked #4 on the top 10 list of possible venue choices for HQ2.
Dave Mammano, a serial entrepreneur and active voice of entrepreneurship in our region, also hosts a podcast and now broadcast radio show on WOKR 1310 AM called the Avanti Entrepreneur show. Check out previous show archives here, and you'll even find a link to the show in which he interviewed me.
Arunas Chesonis, CEO of Sweetwater Energy, founder of Paetec and early stage venture fund Cranberry Capital, also makes time to volunteer as a trustee of University of Rochester and help raise money for HTR's new downtown accelerator.
Culture of Inclusion
Rochester has an ethos of including a diverse group of individuals, interests, and beliefs. At least monthly, I'll meet someone that has moved to the area and wants to grow his or her business here. Or start a business. Or buy a business. Or join a nonprofit board. Or just grab drinks with new friends. Rochesterians understand that you have to give before you get, and I don't see a lot of egos around the table. We all need help once in a while, and everyone seems to subconsciously share a core value of helpfulness.
Look, I'm not saying we deserve it - I don't think we feel entitled - but through the efforts of quite a few people and organizations, I think we've collectively started to build something here. Those of us that live here know exactly why we love it. So let's share that story.
If you know someone curious about our region, please share this page with them. Hopefully they'll find the content and links helpful in sharing the Rochester story with the rest of the world.