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Startup Hardiness [Startups
Posted on March 17, 2014 @ 05:29:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I went down to the farm during march break. My main productive activity was to move three loads of hay bales from the mow of my barn onto a trailer for sale to a vet/farmer who was going to use them to feed various animals. A local 4H group is involved in the venture. I'm glad the hay is being used to raise animals and teach kids. Other than that, I was not able to engage in much productive work because the farm is still in the grips of cold icy snow making it difficult to do much without falling on your back (which I did 3 times). Such is life. Things will get busy soon enough.

We've had a colder than normal winter this year which makes me wonder how my grape vines and apple trees will do this year. Watching the cold icy blasts of snow, rain, and wind make me wonder if I'm crazy to try to grow grapes in this open ridge-top location. The vines, however, are supposed to be hardy to USDA 4 and 5 zones so, theoretically, they should survive another winter as I'm at around zone 5.

I was intrigued to learn more about hardiness zones when my permaculture book (Permaculture: The Design Manual) suggested each hardiness zone was simply a division of the farenheit temperature scale into 10 degree F zones. This seemed pretty arbitrary to me so I investigated further. As far as I can tell this is true as evidenced by this USDA hardiness zone map:

So the USDA hardiness zone map is basically a color-coded temperature map that maps minimum average annual temperatures to a set of colors corresponding to zones 1 to 11 where each zone corresponds to a 5 or 10 degree F range. There is no apparent science behind this particular division of the F temperature scale; it is just a useful device we use to guage whether a plant might be able to adapt to the minimum temperatures present in a particular location. The color patterning is largely determined by latitude of the location and nearness to large bodies of water.

So when you buy a plant you should only buy plants that have a hardiness zone that is appropriate to your location. You can buy a plant that is hardier than your zone (e.g., hardiness 3 or 4 when you live in hardiness zone 5), but you shouldn't buy a plant that is not hardy in your zone (e.g., hardiness 6 when you live in hardiness zone 5). This is just a general rule and there are many exceptions depending on natural or artificial microclimate effects.

Which leads me to wonder whether startups might be more or less hardy? Just like there is a wide variation in plants and the conditions under which they can live, perhaps there is variation among startups and the conditions under which they exist. Some hardy startups might be viable under a large range of conditions including inhospitable conditions where only a very hardy startup might survive, all the way up to pleasant conditions where a variety of startups with different hardiness levels can survive. Depopulated rural areas with depressed economies might represent zone 0 with populated urban areas with vibrant economies might represent zone 11. Startups exist in different socio-economic hardiness zones and a startup has to be more or less hardy to survive in the zone in which it chooses to live. Sometimes a startup that is not hardy enough to survive in the zone it has chosen to live in can survive if it moves to a zone where it is less difficult to survive. One lesson for startups that might be gleaned from the hardiness concept is that hardiness is not simply a feature of the startup, it is also a feature of the socio-economic landscape, and success comes about when the hardiness of the startup matches or exceeds the hardiness-requirements of the socio-economic zone the startup is competing in. Startups, unlike plants, have mobility and can move to markets where conditions are less severe in order to remain viable or thrive.

One question that remains unanswered in this discussion is what factors determine the hardiness of a plant, and by extension, the hardiness of a startup?




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