Who Are the Next Services Superstars?

Normally, I use this space to talk about a (hopefully) fresh software venture or other, or a new tech trend that has caught my attention in recent weeks. However, this time I want to share a slightly different subject that starts with a recent catch-up meeting I had with Bijoy Goswami, Bootstrap founder and Austin evangelist, where we were talking about mapping and roots.

Bijoy’s context for our conversation was the work he’s been doing through the ATX Equation, with Heather McKissick of Leadership Austin and many others. (I encourage you to view some of the Scene maps, helping to fill in details where you have something to contribute.)

My context was the legacy mapping of various tech diasporas and how so many notable people and companies can be traced to certain key corporate collectives attracted to the city over the years. Depending on your timeframe, you can place significant markers for the roots of our tech prosperity at 10, 20, 30 years back, or more.

Our discussion dovetailed somewhat with the enthusiastic conversation that Carla Thompson generated regarding key components of the Austin entrepreneur ecosystem: investors, entrepreneurs, and organizations. To put my own spin on it, much of the debate in that thread was around the focus and commitment necessary to generate entrepreneurial Superstars that will draw more investors.

Not to get overly historical on everyone, but I’d nominate Creating the Technopolis: Linking Technology Commercialization and Economic Development, by Raymond V. Smilor, George Kozmetsky, and David V. Gibson, first produced as IC2 Institute research and followed by the 1988 book, as the seminal thought piece on this whole ecosystem subject, especially with respect to Austin catalysts.

You can get a sample of some of the ideas about creating vibrant tech commercialization centers in a chapter from one of Dave Gibson’s follow-up books.

One of the areas that it highlights, which my personal experience has born true, is the importance of the services infrastructure for new venture success. Perhaps we take it for granted, but with all of the other regions in the U.S. – from RTP to Boulder – gunning to be the next Silicon Valley, I believe a vibrant and fluid services sector is one of the key reasons why our community ranks as highly as it does.

Three quick services firm examples that are noteworthy, albeit very different:

  • KHRG (or Kastner Huggins Reddien Gravelle, in long form), a newly minted entrepreneur-savvy law firm where my nGenera colleague, Ryan Gravelle, joined three fellow attorneys to make their mark
  • Building Image Group (or BIG), where colleague, Melanie Rustenbeck, took the chief operating officer role for one of the go-to firms in interior/exterior signage
  • The 2.0 Adoption Council, a critically influential company created by former nGenera colleague Susan Scrupski through which she serves both the social media “intrapreneurs” at large enterprises by convening them in pragmatic dialog and shared best practices, as well as entrepreneurs to whom she provides strategic guidance, informally and through forums like the 2.0 Adoption Community

I draw on these not to play favorites, but because they come from my personal list of fellow nGenera alumni and because of the diversity they represent. Yet, their stories are repeated many times over by the principals of dozens of great services ventures started up in the accounting, finance, HR, benefits, commercial real estate, banking, insurance, and marketing sectors, to name a few.

Every one of these women and men is an entrepreneur in their own right – just as important as a Kevin Rose, or Jack Dorsey – developing business, delivering value, and enhancing the ecosystem (aka, Technopolis). And each, in their own way, is an investor in the success of the entrepreneurial scene in our region – sometimes very explicitly, when they defer fees and/or take equity stakes betting on promising clients.

So, my hope for our community is that we will see just as many Superstars emerge in this important infrastructure sector as we do in life sciences, software, and silicon, and that they establish a footprint in other entrepreneurial regions of the country, further enhancing the Austin brand.

Who Are the Next Services Superstars?

3 thoughts on “Who Are the Next Services Superstars?

  1. Guest says:

    I'm sure there are some legitimate service providers out there, but there exists a slippery slope in which “service” becomes “distraction” and economically damaging to cash strapped entrepreneurs. You have to be able to wear many hats as a startup founder, and this includes the ability to take on some of the more non cerebral tasks like marketing. I take exception with legal services, these are critical to an early stage company.The last thing I want when I am trying to build something of great value, is to let the tentacles of service providers get into my company and suck out all of the equity. There is nothing worse than going to a tech event and meeting nothing but “service” providers. I go to those events to meet other founders, investors, and strategic partners – not someone who can “take my vc pitch to the next level” or “design me a killer website”. To me, a lot (not all) of these are bottom feeders who take precious cash and equity from start up companies.

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