I’ve talked a lot about why I think Pittsburgh is well situated to be a strong entrepreneurial hub, but I think I may have spent too much time talking about how Pittsburgh is different from Silicon Valley and not enough time talking about how it is similar.
There are a myriad of reasons Silicon Valley is what it is today, but the ones that I always thought were fundamental was having a top-tier engineering school to serve as an anchor and a strong entrepreneurial community.
Almost every successful entrepreneur will tell you that they were successful in large part because of the help they got from the previous generation, and as a result have this duty to give back to the next generation. The thing about Silicon Valley is that this is so strongly baked into the culture there, creating a very strong sense of community. As @venturehacks put it, “It's almost a law that cashed-out entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have to start angel investing. Not years after their exit — right away.” The result of this, of course, is that it creates a very strong network effect; as I’ve said before, building a successful business is a terribly difficult thing, but the Silicon Valley community creates a strong support network to nurture nascent companies into mature and successful ones.
This sense of community and openness was really on display when I spent a week in San Francisco this past August. During that time, I called a number of successful folks in the community and almost every single one made time to sit down and talk that week. (In fact, I think the only two who didn’t were both out of town). We spent over an hour with each one discussing our business, and they happily offered feedback, made introductions and pointed us at potential partners. In every case, I had this feeling that they genuinely wanted to help us; that they wanted to see us succeed, even though we had never met them prior to setting up the meeting. We asked each for 30 minutes, and I think our shortest meeting was 75 minutes.
I spent the following week in Pittsburgh, and interestingly my experience was almost identical. I met around 10 different folks involved in the entrepreneurial community here and was greeted with open arms. Everyone I met with was helpful and again I had that feeling that they wanted me to succeed. I think one thing that Pittsburgh has even more than Silicon Valley is immense pride in the city. The community, though much smaller, is perhaps even stronger here because of that deep-rooted desire to see Pittsburgh succeed.
Of course, that’s no surprise to anyone who has spent any time in Pittsburgh, but I think sometimes without the contrast it goes unappreciated. We have a great community in New York, but there’s still just a different vibe in Pittsburgh – and in Silicon Valley. When combined with other building blocks, I think that’s a big reason why Pittsburgh will be able to transform itself in the long run.