North America is still the world’s leading startup region, home to 50% of the top 30 global startups ecosystems and deploying around $31.4 billion of investment across all stages in the third quarter of this year.
However, if you are a no-name on the American market, no matter how good your product is, you likely won’t be able to raise funds or find an audience.
Once, a founder reached out to me. I didn’t respond, but he was persistent. Eventually I told him that without knowing him or his team, we could not spend our time on an unverified project given the current market circumstances, but that if someone vouched for him, we would consider his pitch.
That’s how the U.S. market works today. So, if you’re starting from scratch, the first thing you need to think about is how to become part of the local network.
Relocate really means moving
Not only should you have a U.S. office, but the center of your life should also be in the U.S.
If someone is raising money while living in Eastern Europe, they won’t get funding in America unless it comes from Eastern European expatriates. It’s not just about having a company registered on U.S. soil — you personally should live in America.
If you need a visa, consider different options. Besides the well-known O-1 and EB-1 programs, there is the International Entrepreneur RuleParole Program, which gives foreign citizens permission to stay in the United States for up to five years to develop a business.
Carefully choose the right startup hub
It’s crucial to move to the business hub that is right for you. In a perfect world, you should be located closer to the heart of innovation in the Bay Area. However, I suggest you consider not only top ecosystems like Silicon Valley, New York City or Boston, but also those which are not so packed with fellow startuppers.
In May 2023, the U.S. launched the Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs (Tech Hubs) competition to develop local centers of innovation and job creation, and today, according to the Startup Genome report, some hubs worth considering are Detroit (industry and robotics), the Research Triangle in North Carolina (tech and life sciences), Minneapolis (finance and insurance), Houston (health, hospitality and manufacturing) and Phoenix (SaaS, cybersecurity and marketing).
Creativity can get you ahead of the curve
Besides attending conferences, I suggest you use location-targeted apps like Meetup. It’s essential for you to integrate into the local community. Consider aspects like the school your children attend; if they attend the right school your chances of establishing informal contacts and meeting someone who can benefit your business are higher.
Another strategy is to approach locals through a VC that already has a network. Besides, VCs can assist you with other issues like team building, lawyers, accountants and auditors. We have even helped founders lease their first office in the U.S.
This option also requires preparation. Solid funds rarely consider “street” projects and first-time founders. Build relationships, connections, speak at various events, and become a thought leader in your niche. Once you are known as an expert in the community close to the VCs you choose, there will be someone to recommend you.
What if all of this seems too complex? Join the right accelerator. If your chances as a newcomer are around 2% (either you are lucky, or you’re a genius), an accelerator boosts your odds of success to 30%.
Dmitry Smirnov, with 15-plus years of experience in venture capital investments, is the founder and partner of Flint Capital, a Boston-based VC fund that invests in early-stage tech companies across the U.S., Europe and Israel. The firm has had 20 successful exits, two IPOs and three unicorns.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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