Across the country, a lot of the talk around startup ecosystems has focused on the need for a “billion-dollar” exit. In other words, the ultimate way to measure the success of all the time, resources, and civic energy being put into a regional startup scene like Erie’s would be the creation of the next Snapchat, Instagram, or other “unicorn.”
(A unicorn isn’t just a mythical beast. In Silicon Valley lingo, it means a company valued at a billion dollars—but sometimes that turns out to be a myth, too.)
However, while a billion dollars is a lot of money, a billion-dollar exit is the wrong metric for success.
Don’t get us wrong. Everyone would be thrilled if one of the companies selected to participate in the Secure Erie Accelerator was sold for a billion dollars. That would be big news. And, given this region’s longstanding inclination toward philanthropy, there’s a good chance a nice chunk of that wealth would flow back into important local causes and civic organizations.
But ultimately, a billion-dollar exit isn’t what Erie needs—and it’s not the metric we should use to measure the success of the Erie Innovation District and our local startup movement. Instead, we should measure success by our ability to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that attracts and retains aspiring entrepreneurs and gives them the resources to create a better regional economy.
That is already happening. Erie startups are gaining national recognition. Companies are choosing to relocate to Erie to be closer to our innovation community. Established businesses in the city are investing in and providing other forms of support to our startups—including Erie Insurance’s recent investment in SimpleSense and CityGrows. Both startups were participants in the Secure Erie Accelerator.
Brand-new companies receiving capital and support from the existing corporate community form the foundation of a real ecosystem that isn’t dependent on temporary headlines from a big exit.
It’s important for anyone who believes in the importance of a thriving startup scene to remember that Silicon Valley didn’t become Silicon Valley because the Bay Area decided it needed a rebranding after the hippies made Haight-Ashbury smell weird. It took decades for Silicon Valley to become the Silicon Valley we all read about. That only started to happen when relatively small electronics manufacturers began to attract the talented employees, educators, and funders who eventually created the world’s most-well-known entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In other words, startups like SimpleSense and CityGrows don’t just create good jobs. They help attract and retain the talent that a strong regional economy depends on. Together with companies like Erie Insurance (and many others), these startups are an important part of Erie’s future economic success.
One day we can be Pennsylvania and the Great Lakes regional version of Silicon Valley.
But that won’t happen tomorrow—Silicon Valley’s ability to establish itself as the world’s hub of innovation was a success story that took decades to write. And it won’t happen because a handful of employees and investors in one startup strike it rich. It will happen when entrepreneurs in our region know they have the support of their community.
That’s why what we’re doing here at the Erie Innovation District matters so much, and that’s why we need you to support the startup movement here in Erie.
It’s not about billion-dollar exits.
It’s about building a city and a region on a foundation of inclusivity, innovation, and widespread economic prosperity.