Innovation and Startups in Orlando, FL

By on 4/19/2009

So I’m reading this book, Founders at Work.  In the book Jessica Livingston, one of the co-founders of Y-Combinator, interviews a bunch of founders of famous companies who started off in basements and bedrooms. I haven’t completely finished it yet, but I wanted to make an observation that so far has been almost universal in all of the founder interviews.

Many of them took Venture Capital to get them started, and many of them moved to the west coast.

Now, much has been written and said by people like Joel Spolsky on the benefits of bootstrapping your business instead of taking VC.  But that’s not really the part that I wanted to comment on (perhaps another day).  I wanted to comment on the exodus from the east coast that always seemed to happen (if they weren’t already on the west coast).

Brewster Kahle, of Alexa says in the book:
Boston, especially back in 1990/91, was in recession and having trouble. California was also in recession, but in California there were dreamers. There were people who wanted to think about new and different things and wouldn’t think we were crazy to try to build this thing.
Even YCombinator itself moved out to California:
But we did worry that the Boston groups were losing out. Boston just doesn't have the startup culture that the Valley does. It has more startup culture than anywhere else, but the gap between number 1 and number 2 is huge
Now, despite the fact that the two examples I chose moved out of Boston specifically, you can find lots of other examples if you look hard enough. Living here in Orlando, fl … it kind of makes me wonder what it is about the culture over there that seems to breed such innovation.  Or rather, what attracts it.  I know for a fact that innovation is happening here every day.

For example, a local developer (Paul Varcholik) is doing some awesome research at UCF on Multi-Touch interfaces.  Bill Reiss is starting up a venture to host and monetize games written in Silverlight (Tampa, but close enough :-P ). And locally run blog GameJobHunter (written by Paul Teall) has a post detailing local Video Game studios in Orlando.  These are definitely bright spots … however, what will happen when they create their inevitable innovation or breakthrough? Will these pioneers feel that they need to move out west for people to take them seriously or to fund them?  Will they find a lack of community, or even talent to help them locally?

I’m hopeful that this is not the case.  The number and size of user groups in the area have been steadily growing of the last few years. There are a large number of free codecamps put on in Florida which offer a huge amount of sessions.  There has never been as much community available as there is now … and that’s great!  However, the mere presence of these user groups does not equal success.

On both sides of the fence, I feel that things need be brought to the proverbial “next step”. The opportunities for brainstorming, sharing knowledge, and even recruiting help from like-minded individuals are there. Everyone needs to start dreaming bigger, taking chances, executing on ideas. And I’m not the only one that sees this … others have made similar observations,
The fact is that we can't expect to improve the tech startup climate on the east coast if we don't come together and make it what we want it to be. And that means we need to stop looking over our shoulder at the west coast and start building businesses here and now …
This is a call to action to the local development community … show up to that next user group meeting.  Bring your ideas with you, there are lots of ways to foster discussion about your idea without talking about it directly (if you fear it’ll be poached by others).  And if you don’t think you could actually execute on your idea, talk freely about it.  Perhaps it will spark someone else’s imagination.  I want to see Central Florida in the news touting our innovative startups, products, and high-tech services.

I’d love to hear other’s thoughts on how we can encourage this :-)

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