John Warner, a.k.a. The Swamp Fox, is a Greenville, SC-based venture capitalist. On his blog, he writes about the Greenville Chamber’s recent visit to Austin, TX–a city that has emerged as an entrepreneurial haven with the third-most venture capital investment in the country. In other words, the money is flowing in Austin. Warner asks why and considers what his own vibrant upstate community can do to share in some of Austin’s success.
People really enjoy living in Austin and are dedicated to preserving and celebrating their distinctiveness. Their attitude is captured in a bumper sticker: Keep Austin Weird. The distinctiveness of a city starts with its local, independent businesses, so Austin fosters the growth and development of local companies and doesn’t subsidize the mega chains that are making America look homogenized.
Austin nurtures folks — students, managers with new ideas and immigrants — who don’t fit into the power structures that exist in the community. On the plane ride to Austin, I sat next to a woman who had lived in Greenville only a year and told me how difficult it had been to get plugged into the leadership of our community. Now, if this was the only time I had heard this about Greenville, it would have been easy to write it off as an isolated case. But I hear it frequently, in particular from African Americans trying to become part of the leadership.
Leaders in Greenville don’t perceive that it is a tight, closed system. We think of ourselves as enlightened and open to new ideas and people. So where does the disconnect come from? It’s not uncommon to find major companies and other organizations in Greenville where almost all of the senior leadership has been in place 20 or 30 years. These leaders have deep relationships going back decades, and like anyone would, they tend to rely on people they have known and trusted for a long time.
Asheville, NC is another city that seeks to remain weird. I know not whether Greenville was ever weird for starters, but I welcome the fact that a Greenville VC with the power to back the weird is interested in doing so.
For more on Austin, see this 2003 report on SXSW. Perhaps, Greenville would like to consider launching SXSE.