Steve Werley owns a web design business in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. He’s young and very entrepreneurial.
When he heard about Startup Grind, an organization built around a network of loosely-connected local chapters in more than 200 cities and 85 countries, his interest was piqued. And after looking for and not finding a chapter in his area, Steve decided to start one.
“I never enjoyed working for anyone else, but liked being my own boss,” he said in a telephone interview with Small Business Trends. “Startup Grind appealed to me due to the entrepreneurial culture it fosters. When I found out that the closest chapter was 50 miles away, in Philadelphia, I decided to apply to become a chapter director and was accepted. We had 30 people at our first event.”
How Startup Grind Began
It all began in 2010 in Palo Alto, California with Derek Andersen, himself an entrepreneur.
According to John Frye, global community manager at Startup Grind, who spoke with Small Business Trends via telephone, the organization began organically with Andersen and some friends getting together informally to talk about entrepreneurship and the challenge of founding a startup.
“It didn’t take long before more people started showing up for these meetings,” Frye said. “Soon, the group began bringing in speakers. Others found out about what was going on and wanted to start groups in their cities. In a few short years, we’ve expanded to more than 200 cities in 85 countries with over 400,000 members, all organically through word of mouth.”
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Startup Grind is now the largest independent startup community, actively educating, inspiring, and connecting entrepreneurs globally. Because it was founded in Silicon Valley, the organization tends to attract tech startup founders, but entrepreneurs from many verticals attend chapter meetings.
How It Works
Frye said Startup Grind’s model is very simple. Each chapter hosts monthly events, usually from 6 – 9 p.m., that consist of networking, listening to and interacting with a speaker and then more networking.
“We use a ‘fireside chat’ format where the speaker and host sit in armchairs facing the audience while the host asks questions of the speaker, to draw out his personal circumstances, experiences and lessons learned about starting a business,” Frye said.
Each chapter has a director, who acts as the “mayor” of the startup community. Directors are also tasked with finding speakers, typically entrepreneurs in the area, who donate their time to share their experiences. (It’s Startup Grind’s policy not to pay speakers.)
“Speakers don’t get a lot of time to talk about their business but more about how they got there and the vision they had in getting started,” Werley said. “It’s not about promotion but inspiration and education.”
Also, while members aren’t required to pay dues, some chapters charge to attend meetings, to cover expenses, such as refreshments or meals.
Startup Grind is different than groups like BNI, which are designed to provide leads. It’s more about educating and inspiring entrepreneurs to continue their startup journey. There is also a strong sense of community among the members, or what both Werley and Frye defined as “family.”
The organization operates based on three core values:
- We believe in making friends, not contacts;
- We believe in giving, not taking;
- We believe in helping others before helping yourself.
“We are truly passionate about helping founders, entrepreneurs and startups succeed,” the Startup Grind website says. “We intend to make their startup journey less lonely, more connected and more memorable.”
The primary benefits of being in a Startup Grind chapter are the opportunity it provides members to get to know area entrepreneurs and learn from their experiences.
Also, since investors sometimes attend meetings or serve as speakers, there is a chance to forge relationships that could result in funding, although that is not a primary goal. Startup Grind provides no formal means by which investors and entrepreneurs connect, so relationships happen organically, as a result of networking.
Startup Grind Events
In addition to the local chapters, which make up the backbone of the organization, Startup Grind hosts large gatherings, including an annual conference.
Currently, two events are scheduled:
- StartUp Grind Socal – A day-long event consisting of 50 speakers from the technology, media, film and entertainment industries. It takes place on Sept. 27, 2016, in Los Angeles.
- Startup Grind Global Conference – Takes place Feb. 21-22, 2017, in Silicon Valley. As many as 5,000 people are expected to attend.
Startup Grind Sponsored by Google for Entrepreneurs
Startup Grind has the unique advantage of being sponsored by Google for Entrepreneurs, which partners with startup communities and builds campuses where entrepreneurs can learn, connect and create companies that, according to Google, will “change the world.”
Google for Entrepreneurs also provides financial support and resources to startup communities that equip and nurture entrepreneurs.
How to Start a Chapter
Starting a Startup Grind chapter involves the following steps:
- Request to be an applicant by registering and filling in an application form;
- Once Startup Grind acknowledges the application, the applicant receives an email with instructions on starting the “Application Course” consisting of several quiz questions;
- When completed, Startup Grind schedules an interview with the applicant via Skype or Google Hangouts;
- If the application is accepted, the organization gives the newly-designated director access to onboarding courses;
- Once the director completes those, he can host the first chapter event.