Maybe Richmond DOES Deserve a Pat on the Back

If you live in Richmond, you know one thing for sure: we love being ranked on national lists. It doesn’t matter the publication - Outdoors Magazine,, whatever – it doesn’t matter what it is, we love it. So when Richmond was recently named “Top 10 Upcoming Startup Cities” - predictably the Richmond startup community freaked out. My LinkedIn is ALL links to that article, and Facebook and Twitter blew up as well.

But you probably knew that if you’re reading this - what you may not know is that Pat Hull, the author of that article is actually FROM Richmond, and that’s the only reason he included Richmond on the list. You may also not know that Richmond has one of the most troubled startup pasts of any reasonably progressive city in America - our inbred snakiness has led to a culture of mocking startups that fail, one of the worst things a city trying to build an ecosystem can do. Probably more importantly, beyond “Get Loaded”, the company the author of that Forbes article started, we have literally 0 wins in the Tech Startup scene, and only a few in the non-tech realm.

Predictably (because I’m an asshole) - I reacted negatively to what I saw as ridiculous and unnecessary back-patting by the Richmond startup community. And to those who I lashed back against on social media about the article - I’m sorry - and I think I was wrong. I think Richmond DOES deserve a pat on the back for two reasons:

  1. Our attitude has changed and we’re making some visible progress and
  2. Our potential is SO massive, any progress is significant.

You see, I have a tendency to be negative about the Richmond startup scene because it’s past has led to a really, really dire set of circumstances for the city’s startups. There are almost no investors, almost no people with the domain knowledge we need, and almost nobody to look up to. More so, I subscribe to Paul Singh’s theory about startup ecosystem building, and I have decided to primarily show up in the community only where I’m needed, and generally keep my head down and try to build something for this community to be proud of HERE instead of somewhere else.

But you know what? The people trying to build this community are making progress, and they’re doing it in the face of long odds – odds that scared me off and left me frustrated only a couple months into my participation. Todd Nuckols and the Lighthouse Labs are doing God’s work (the only thing that that I’m actually excited to help with), Larkin Garbee is doing her thing, 80Amps is possibly the coolest accelerator/investor/builder combo I’ve EVER seen, New Richmond Ventures is actually trying to bring real Venture Capital to the city, and there are a SLEW of entrepreneurs that are going to do whatever it takes to bring some wins to this city. The best part - those entrepreneurs aren’t leaving. ACe/Justin, Ramzy, Marti, Mac, Tom/Mike, Larkin, and all the Lighthouse companies - y'all could all leave, y'all could get deals in the Valley, but you’re staying.

This wasn’t here when I came back here 1.5 years ago. We didn’t have any of this - in fact, when I met with the Virginia state funded accelerator CIT around that time, they asked me “are there literally any startups in Richmond? We can’t find any”. And they weren’t kidding - they had a mandate from the state to invest in something in Richmond and they LITERALLY COULD NOT FIND ANYTHING. That’s changed - and ya know what? I think it’s about to change even faster.

So keep posting that link - we’re coming for you other cities, and we’ve got some tricks up our sleeve. I know I do.


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