An important part of the Impact Angel Group’s mission is to strengthen our startup community and entrepreneurial ecosystem, so we often participate in community building events. This event was particularly interesting, so I thought it might be helpful to share my experience:
I was recently invited to meet with a group of female entrepreneurs from Tajikistan who were visiting Boulder. Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, is Boulder’s sister city (hence the Dushanbe Tea House) and in an effort to “to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation between Eurasian and American leaders”, a group of Tajik entrepreneurs come to Boulder each year. I was invited to attend the meeting to help shed light on Boulder’s “secret sauce” to help the entrepreneurs better understand how to build a successful startup community. In the process however, I realized they had a lot more to teach me than I could ever teach them.
Egg Strategy hosted the meeting and Julie Penner from Techstars invited other powerhouse local women like her (Sue Kunz, Jaclyn Freeman, Lou Moeller) known for their can-do, no-nonsense attitudes. In typical Boulder startup fashion, we all arrived bright-eyed and determined to make a tangible difference in these women’s lives before we left the meeting. We asked the typical questions like “What are some concrete ways we can help you with before we leave today?”. But……we hit a bit of a road block. We didn’t speak the same language and waiting for a translator doesn’t exactly work for the typical rapid-fire brainstorming / rapid prototyping session that we in Boulder are used to. Additionally, because the conditions in Tajikistan are so different then they are here, our normal tips and pointers didn’t apply. As the meeting went on, our delegation of fast-moving Boulder women started losing patience with the slow pace and our lack of progress, but then an amazing thing happened. That slow pace gave us the opportunity to think and reflect, and we realized we had approached the meeting from the completely wrong perspective.
We all came into that meeting assuming that they needed our help and that we could be helpful. After hearing their stories however, we realized that our intentions were a bit misdirected.
I personally, really started to realize this. I came into the meeting with the arrogant attitude that I could teach these women our wise Boulder ways. But why did I assume that they needed my help? I know first-hand that being an entrepreneur is hard, but being an entrepreneur in Tajikistan is REALLY hard. Yet, these women have defied all odds to make it happen.
I live in one of the most startup supportive environments in the country. I have, for the most part, experienced equal opportunity despite my gender. My government (again, for the most part) is free from corruption and supportive of entrepreneurs. If I fail as an entrepreneur, it will just mean that I’ll have to stay in my 2200 sq. ft. duplex in North Boulder rather than affording a 4000 sq. ft. Victorian home on Mapleton Hill.
Why on earth did I think I had so much to teach these Tajik women? These women have survived civil war and government corruption. They live in a country with a Gross National Income per capita of $870. Being an entrepreneur, especially a female entrepreneur, is counter to their societal norms. Becoming an entrepreneur in Tajikistan is an unbelievable feat! I highly doubt I would have the tenacity to do it.
So….what is the concrete thing that we in Boulder can contribute to the entrepreneurs of Tajikistan? It is the message that Tajikistan has the tenacity to help its own entrepreneurs.
To you, entrepreneurs of Tajikistan: You are amazing! By simply becoming an entrepreneur, you have already accomplished what most entrepreneurs in the United States could never dream of doing. You are strong. You are smart. You have the mind power to make things happen in your community. I hope that your trip to Boulder will make you realize how your own community can help you. Support each other and believe in yourselves. We have very little to give you because you are already so far ahead of us. We are truly impressed.
My visit with the entrepreneurs of Tajikistan was the best piece of humble pie I could have asked for.
What do you think?