Silicon Ivy and Main Street: Both Need a Thriving Ecosystem

Last week, my friend Ami Kassar posted a Facebook note coining a phenonomon he called the “Silicon Ivy Bubble.”

He wrote:

In the Silicon Ivy bubble, there is a perception about entrepreneurship. In Silicon Ivy, an entrepreneur tends to look like this:

1. You need a unique proprietary idea that could grow into a billion dollar company;

2. You must raise rounds of capital – b, c, angel, bridge. There is an entire ecosystem built around supporting this bubble.

3. You must follow these steps.

Ami’s conclusion, though, is that these Silicon Ivy startups are far outpaced by businesses that “start on Main Street” where there is “typically no ‘secret sauce’ at the core of the business.”

Main Street businesses are traditional companies where an entrepreneur’s recognition of the need to provide for family and a need in the community coincide.  They are businesses funded by savings or maybe, if the entrepreneur is both lucky and good, a bank loan.

Ami sees plenty of Main Street businesses at his ideablob site, where entrepreneurs post business ideas and receive business advice in return.  The site is the kind of ecosystem that Ami laments is missing from the Main Street business arena, a vibrant ecosystem of support akin to that which supports those Silicon Ivy businesses.

As I thought about Ami’s post, my first inclination was as you might expect: the dynamics and metrics of a venture-fundable business are vastly different from those of the sort of lifestyle businesses that pop up on on Main Streets everywhere. Silicon Valley – or Silicon Ivy – is home to a high-stakes ecosystem exactly because the stakes are so big. It takes a lot of heavy lifting to build a $100M company, then grow it some more.

It’s different on Main Street.  A sole proprietor, a banker, maybe a real estate agent.  Set up shop. Hang out the shingle. Get to work. Bring home the bacon, fry it up the pan.  Feed the family. Pay the mortgage.

As if there is something wrong with that.

Yes, venture-backed businesses require a certain scale and ambition. They are bigger businesses, potentially, than Main Street businesses.  But not necessarily better businesses.  Main Street businesses, or what some folks describe (often with derision) as “lifestyle businesses,”  are good businesses. Some are even great businesses.  They simply don’t scale the way a venture capitalist requires in order to make an investment.

Main Street businesses, writes Ami, “need a place to feel the energy that exists in Silicon Valley coffee shops. They need access to financing for their businesses. They need mentors and cliques like the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. They need hip, cool resources that keep them inspired.”

I’d argue that they also need our respect.  These businesses deserve a vibrant ecosystem of support because they are, in fact, the life blood of the global economy.  They create jobs and drive productivity.  They are arguably the lever in economic recovery.

And, oddly enough, many – and I might argue, most — of Silicon Valley startups are Main Street-scale businesses masquerading as venture-investable enterprises simply because they are based on that spit of land between San Francisco and San Jose.  These are business that won’t find success with the venture community, but wouldn’t dare to identify themselves as Main Street businesses.

Maybe in all of this discussion, though, is the realization that a large part of Silicon Valley is Main Street. . . and a block or two of Main Street in most every global business center is, in fact, Silicon Valley.

1 Comment »

  1. JimForbes said

    Great premise, god execution and conclusion. It is too bad that Silicon Valledy has groiwn up thinking it is an uber mainstreet and that its infrastructire has encouraged that thinking.Great post, Chris.
    Jim Forbes

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