My Thoughts on Idaho's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Updated: May 27, 2021
If you’ve been reading the blog or following me on LinkedIn, you might know that I moved to Idaho nine months ago on a whim.
Basically, I stopped in Boise while on a cross-country, multi-month road trip; fell in love with it; and never left.
Since then, I’ve gotten involved in the local community as much as I can, from networking with others going through the same thing, to co-chairing Boise Entrepreneur Week (formerly Boise Startup Week), co-managing the 400-member-strong Boise Startup Facebook group, organizing a monthly get-together of entrepreneurs called Founders & Firepits, investing nearly $200k in local businesses, and putting together a crowdsourced Idaho Startup Resource Guide that consolidates important product- and company-building resources.
Given my experience as an entrepreneur in Washington, DC, a “second-tier” startup hub in its own right, where I was a community organizer and resource to the Mayor, I’ve made some observations about Idaho’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, as I see it.
Disclaimer: These are not necessarily all-encompassing (or even true). They are simply my observations (from my privileged vantage point). I’m hoping they provide some valuable insight if you’re an entrepreneur in Idaho, too, or navigating a similar scene elsewhere.
Idaho is a “last frontier” state. Our state is somewhat of a “last frontier,” with almost 70% of it being wilderness rich in biodiversity. With so much to explore, people here work to live, rather than live to work—as they do on the coasts. This brings a whole different attitude to “doing business.”
There is a casual approach to work, which is refreshing. You don't have to dress up for anything. In fact, if you do, you look silly. People work together without signing NDAs or even contracts. Everything is done on a handshake basis. Cynicism hasn't set in here like it has in the bigger cities, and that’s liberating.
Personal pride translates to work. Whatever they do, Idahoans are proud of it, no matter how blue or white collar it may be. They don’t shy away or downplay their profession. Like their state and their property, they’re proud of their work.
The prevalence of libertarian views mean people tend to fend for themselves. That DIY approach makes entrepreneurship a natural fit, and it's why there is one business for every 125 people in the Treasure Valley (or 6,000 businesses in a population of 750,000). However, that mentality has also led to a fragmented ecosystem, with nodes that lack connection.
This is a network of makers and creators. Idahoans like to figure things out on their own and, like their political views, don’t want to be told what to do. This is why it takes a little longer to scale a business here than it might elsewhere, because traditional fundraising isn’t congruent with a DIY culture—and that's OK.
The people in Boise are extremely community-oriented. There are a lot of places in the US where the word community is thrown around as a synonym for neighborhood or affiliation. Here, it really means giving a shit about where you live and it’s authentic af.
More than anything, I’m excited to be a part of this environment and help in any way I can. And I know taking these factors into account will enable me to better serve this community.
My next order of business? Ensuring the qualities specific to our ecosystem are reflected in this year’s Boise Entrepreneurship Week programming.
Thanks to Clay Space, Matt Dalley, Dan McFalls, Jeff Heath, Eric Gilbert, Matt Bishop, Nick Crabbs, and Tiam Rastegar for reviewing early drafts of this piece.