Pittsburgh's Entrepreneurial Culture

I'm late in highlighting Harold Miller's recent post on the importance of entrepreneurial culture. But it's a point that bears repeating over and over:
The lesson in this is if we want the Pittsburgh Region to grow, we need to encourage entrepreneurship - not just among people who might start a company, but among those who might work for one, too - and we need to insure our financial and economic institutions welcome and encourage entrepreneurial companies, rather than resist them.

What, exactly, is "entrepreneurial culture"? I think that understanding and accepting risk is key. That means embracing risk thoughtfully in a variety of senses: What do you think when you contemplate founding a business? What do investors and partners think? What do employees think? What will your friends and family think? Will failure be held against you down the road? At each of those levels, entrepreneurial culture means risk is OK -- even good. So, consider this quotation from Cori Shropshire's feature on local networking tech startups:
Pittsburgh's selling point, these entrepreneurs say, is the ability for newcomers to the city's business scene to find open doors to money, advice, workers and customers -- not to mention the exposure that being connected to the universities provides.

But Mr. Martin cautioned that Pittsburgh's close-knit coziness can also bite. "You don't want to burn bridges ever in Pittsburgh. It lasts a lot longer than it might in other cities."

Is that last bit -- that you get one chance to screw up here -- an obstacle to creating a true entrepreneurial culture?


4 Responses to "Pittsburgh's Entrepreneurial Culture"

John Morris said... 2/18/2007 8:39 PM

Is that question meant as a joke??

Come be an Enterpreneur but you can't screw up.

You can't make this stuff up.

Anonymous said... 2/18/2007 10:23 PM

If one failure taints your reputation then there is no entrepreneurial culture. Places like Silicon Valley and New York are built on people who only made it after a string of failures. People who have never failed are a risky bet: you don't know if they'll be able to handle it when things get tough, you don't know if they've learned anything, you don't know if they're willing to do anything but play it safe, and you don't know if they're stubborn enough.

Anonymous said... 2/18/2007 11:13 PM

I recently finished my MBA at CMU and was surprised at how many students were sticking around Pittsburgh to start new ventures. A big part of it was the networks they formed at the universities, but the fact that our cost of living and cost of doing business are so much lower than the major entrepreneurial regions is a huge factor in those individuals staying put. Not having enough VC here locally hurts since pretty much every VC requires you to be close by. However, having valley powerhouses like Intel and Google in our backyard helps counter that, not to mention having the guys who made it - the Glen Meakems of the area - stick around to invest in local companies.

I've worked for start-ups in Pittsburgh and Northern Virginia, as well as started my own businesses. Along the way myself and others made mistakes that I look back at now, and think, "if only someone had told me about this or that". Here in the burgh at places like the Pgh Tech Council, and at CMU especially, there seems to be a growing number of experts, gurus, etc that are willing to speak to and guide young entrepreneurs along their way. Had I known then what I learned from the guest lecturers and professors in Tepper's entrepreneurship electives things may have turned out differently.

Jim Morris said... 2/19/2007 8:59 PM

Pittsburgh is ranked 48 in accommodating entrepreneurs by entrepreneur.com while Cleveland (!) is 23. An interesting paper http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/chinitz01.htm
shows there may be more than simply cultural handicaps here. I wrote a about this in http://www.pittsburghquarterly.com/pages/winter2007/winter2007_114.htm

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Updated September 2020:

Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

Since then, Pittsburgh-themed essays have appeared from time to time at madisonian.net, on law and technology, and in some of Pittsburgh's classier professional media venues.

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