Growing a ‘Startup Ecosystem’ on Two Wheels

Broadcast on Vermont Public Radio

Riders mostly stay together en route between pitch stops, sharing experiences like getting caught in the rain, noticing great swimming holes or enjoying the twists and turns of Vermont’s hills. Photo by Hilary Niles

It’s becoming tradition in Vermont: The first week of August, riders tour through the most promising hubs in the state, stopping twice a day to get pitched by budding businesses looking for money, advice and connections. The riders — about 45 this year — are looking to invest, help out, have fun, and stay out of the rain.

Event organizer Cairn Cross says the Road Pitch, as it’s called, is a form of economic development for which the private sector is uniquely positioned.

“I personally believe that one of the problems with public sector economic development … is we tend to think of hierarchies,” Cross says. “‘How do we have a one-stop shop where everybody goes and they know exactly where to go to get all the resources?’ And the reality is, you don’t. In part because in a good entrepreneurial economy, new resources are popping up all the time.”

Cairn Cross says his goal in encouraging a “startup ecosystem” is to create opportunities for people with resources to interact with people who need them.

“If you connect those resources together over time, things will happen,” he says.

But the long gestation period inherent in this approach, the riskiness of startups and the disruptive potential of entrepreneurialism — these can be hard sells for politicians and public officials with multiple constituencies to answer to, with taxpayers dollars to be accountable for, with results to show to for the next election.

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Dana Wilkinson, of clothing line Dirty Old Biker, and James Lockridge, of the music-centered nonprofit Big Heavy World, chat after a picnic dinner at Bennington College. Photo by Hilary Niles

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