Beyond H&H: Nathan Bashaw on a Stronger Startup EcosystemBy Kyle Pollock on March 22nd, 2013 /
An ecosystem has essential needs for a organism to survive, and if the conditions are right, the organism can thrive in its surrounding environment. This goes for any environment, but I was able to sit down with Nathan Bashaw, and talk about the Michigan Startup Ecosystem and what it needs for entrepreneurs to thrive.
Nathan started Hackers and Hustlers, in early 2011, after he thought of bringing a meetup to East Lansing, similar to the Ann Arbor, A2 New Tech. “I realized that East Lansing needed a meetup like that” said Bashaw. “I wanted to create a place where all the “idea people” could get together with programmers and people could start working on startups and side projects rather than just pitching ideas, which was the culture at the time.” He gave credit to naming the group from a blog post he read at the time, Hackers and Hustlers, which seems fitting as the group itself is meant for passing on and sharing ideas.
Shortly after a Startup Weekend, Nathan had begun a Hackers and Hustlers Facebook group that would eventually become an online hub where community members and leaders would exchange conversation and advice about startups. While the group kept growing, Bashaw had moved to California, jumping on an opportunity with Olark, and now with General Assembly. Participation began to change and original members like hacker, Nathan Cahill, were asking, Where to next?
Now, with the group exceeding 1,000 members, Bashaw suggested shifting the focus back to in-person meet ups, and putting on hackathons and conferences will do a lot to foster the right culture in Michigan.
Conferences have popped up like Techonomy, The Lean Entrepreneur, and the Accelerate Michigan Competition, and help bring hundreds of thinkers together. Hackathons and Startup Weekends will continue to push ideas forward and get people working together. These events are so important as 37 Signals Co-Founder, Jason Fried will attest, the inspiration you draw from these events is perishable.
However, going to a hacking event in downtown Grand Rapids from Ann Arbor isn’t the same as one across town. In fact, from my own personal experience, it can get time-consuming, especially when you’re working on a project or startup yourself, a round trip across the state can kill a good 4 hours of working time.
Bashaw, who is originally from Arkansas, had a lot to say about his experience living in Michigan for 4 years and building Hackers and Hustlers. “Michigan is an interesting state because there are talented startup people all over. Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo have equal if not more social capital than the traditional economic center of the state, Detroit. You also have a ton of smart people in Ann Arbor that don’t clearly identify with the “Detroit” umbrella.”
“None of these places has emerged as the clear center of activity for internet startups. So I think that’s why H&H has been so valuable – it’s an umbrella for all these regions that can tie people together from across the state. It’s worked well because we’re all on the internet and on Facebook.”
“But it would be even better if you had a high-speed rail that connected people physically. If you combine all the talent from all across the state, you have a viable startup hub. I think you get really close to critical mass. But in isolation, each town is just too small.”
Bashaw shared honest, but of course, ambitious words for Michigan to become more connected. A multi billion dollar high-speed rail would be no easy feat, but he points out something I’ve never thought about. Maybe Michigan should begin thinking about how to play to its strengths and get its cities more connected rather than trying to make a comeback and build a supercity with one.
If we had a better public transporation people could get work done, commuting between cities instead of stressing during a drive through traffic and construction. Currently, Amtrak takes about an hour from Ann Arbor to Detroit, but for most other routes between East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Detroit, the trains are not direct.
In comparison, Belgium’s high-speed HSL-1 train transits between Paris and Brussels (about 189 miles) within 85 minutes and has been running since 1997. While Detroit to Grand Rapids (about 158 miles) would take hypothetically about 86 minutes on the new speeds of 110 mph Amtrak travels. However, there are currently no direct transits from Detroit to Grand Rapids as well as between many other major Michigan cities.
Ultimately, the better we can connect our cities, and have them stand together, the stronger Michigan will be.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Aristotle
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