Embracing Startups as the Key to Our Future


We often hear that startups are the key to future economic growth. That is mainly because all net new jobs in the last 30 years have come from high growth entrepreneurial companies five years in age or less.  I think many times people don’t believe this because our country was established in agriculture, followed by an industrial revolution that we, in my opinion, still cling on to.  With information technology leading the way, startup companies are so intangible, it is hard for brick and mortar cities to embrace the risk.  Memphis is such a city and we are not alone, as most fly over cities are in the same boat.The next time you are approached by a startup, don’t roll your eyes, but rather thank them at bare minimum.  They are doing what everyone talks about doing in terms of economic development and progressing this city forward.  How many times do we hear that we need to advance our talent; secure more capital, invest more capital, create new technologies, give back to the community, be more socially inclusive, and so much more.  A startup company is the perfect intersection of all those things.

The Memphis Chamber brought in Jim Clifton last year, who spoke on his book “The Coming Jobs War”. One of the things I carried away with me was his delivery on why startups are the key to the future of communities.  He talked about how each startup company is a center of action that is building a small village of business and community activity around them. He went further to have us imagine 500 of these working and growing in our community; how much better would things be.

I began to think this through and started laying out how Memphis’ startups are doing what most are not and realized that we need to do a better job embracing and advocating for them.  Consider this: each true startup is building an innovative product or service that has the opportunity to scale, which is vitally important for Memphis growth.  Even in failure our community should be taking notes on how to leverage this innovation, from the private sector buying the technology, to the social sector using it to advance our community, to the fact that the entrepreneur himself has acquired a skill-set that makes them more employable when re-entering the workforce.

A startup founder has taken a leap of faith to pursue their dream, and by quitting their job they are opening space for new talent to step in.  They then start a quest of testing their concepts, talking to hundreds of customers, validating their concept, and in the process, educating Memphians of innovations being built in their own city.  They are surrounding themselves with mentors for further expertise, and they are starting to build relationships with potential investors for support down the road. This is not just happening in Memphis, but entrepreneurs from Memphis are traveling all over the country – each a walking billboard for our city. They have no money, just some savings (if that), but they move forward regardless.

Startups have to be resourceful, and as a result they are great at bartering services to get by.  One may help another with financials and the other may help with backend design.  The thing many don’t realize is their spending power as they are all in on their business and any money they raise goes 100% right back into our local economy.

The startup community is also like the arts community, there is a common bond amongst the players and there is no time for social and racial discrimination.  All are at the verge of becoming successful or going out of business at any given time so no one can afford to alienate others.

Startups are great volunteers because they understand the need to give back because of their struggles; paying it forward is the unwritten rule.  In the end they create our jobs, intersect networks, break down long lasting barriers, educate our population, rally capital off the sidelines, are equal opportunists, they hire people, they are disruptors, and they are the ones in your coffee shops, restaurants, and local businesses just as much as others in our community; now just imagine having 500 startups activated in Memphis.  In the end they are doing what most Memphians are afraid to do or too proud to support.  So they next time a startup comes up to you asking for some time; don’t turn away but shake their hand.

Andre Fowlkes is co-president of Start Co. He can be reached at info@neverstop.co.