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Where the Big Data Comes From

Thom Ruhe

Last month, the Kauffman Foundation announced a grant aimed at curating data on young companies from cities around the world. Our partner in this endeavor is Startup Genome; a free and open platform for collecting, curating and analyzing data about the startups, entrepreneurs, investors and community enablers in a local startup community. Communities are encourage to use Startup Genome to measure and promote their city, state or country's startup community, or use the Startup Genome API to power local projects.

To understand the value in collecting data about regional entrepreneurial communities, I point you to a blog written by Cameron Cushman, a Kauffman colleague tasked with strengthening the entrepreneurial community right here in Kansas City. His musings in Mapping Communities One Startup at a Time cover this topic well.

With that aspect of Startup Genome properly conveyed, I thought I’d explore the origin of a company like this. So I sat down with its co-founder, Shane Reiser for the most recent Top of Mind episode. It turns out Shane, like many successful entrepreneurs, was responding to a need when creating the company’s product. He was COO of Startup Weekend at the time, running the organization’s volunteer training program, when he noticed a common, ongoing, and oftentimes grueling task among his trainees—mapping their local startup communities. In whiteboard-clad conference rooms, leaders in entrepreneurial communities across the nation were trying to tally the startups growing in their regions and the resources helping them. But it’s a daunting task, especially when considering upkeep. Startups are born, growing and dying every day and when tracking that action is a mere piece of a person’s responsibilities within an organization, it can quickly become a neglected onus.

So Shane started building his MVP (minimally viable product) and it was, as he so candidly put it, a terrible website he trashed several times. It wasn’t until he met his now co-founder that Startup Genome started to take shape. Dave Lerner, director of entrepreneurship at Columbia University, had built a handful of startup community maps on his blog using Google My Maps. According to Shane, these maps weren’t much easier on the eye (or the brain)…imagine a big hairball if you will. But when the two teamed up, they built and launched the interactive map that more closely resembles the tool available today (both beautiful and usable).

Though it’s automated in all the right ways, the real power behind the database is the network of on-the-ground curators who volunteer their knowledge and time to keep the data clean. And with the Kauffman grant, Shane is looking to recruit 1,000 new local curators to enter and approve even more data that can then be analyzed and translated into actionable knowledge.

And that’s how it all started—with a need exposed to the right entrepreneur who happened to meet the right team. Now, there is a free, valuable tool available to every community in the world.

So check out your map—is your startup represented? It should be.


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