The Importance of Young People In Your Startup Community

From Chattanooga to Omaha to Las Vegas, many cities in the US – and around the world – are building startup communities. An important part of doing this to attract, retain, and mentor more young people.

Behind every successful startup community is a group of young people with their entire life ahead of them. These youngsters aren’t afraid to take on projects bigger than themselves and won’t take no for an answer. They come from all different walks of life, places around the globe, and with varied experiences and knowledge. And they all come with enthusiasm and a desire to learn. Over time, as they learn who they are as young adults, they grow the communities they are a part of into something unique.

A new book that just came out, 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World, highlights the stories of young kids across the globe who are creating ripples in their own communities.One of the millennials highlighted in the book is Fletcher Richman, now the platform manager at Galvanize Ventures.

As a University of Colorado at Boulder student, Fletcher Richman co founded Spark Boulder, Colorado’s first student coworking space, which Amy and I have financially supported (check out the bathrooms the next time you are there.) In his junior year in college, he largely directed and oversaw the fundraising, construction, and day-to-day operations of Spark. Fletcher could always be found meeting student entrepreneurs and would regularly seek out and offer other promising students internships at growing Boulder startups. He also helped create a set of classes at Spark that help students learn iOS Development, growth hacking, and front end web development.

Fletcher is constantly thinking about new ways to grow our startup community and young people like him that have made an enormous contribution to Boulder’s growing startup scene. But they’ve also made contributions like Fletcher’s all over the world. The book 2 Billion Under 20 has great examples of millennials from Iowa to Israel doing things similar to what Fletcher does to make their startup communities more successful.

Young people have the opportunity to move and build their life anywhere they want. So how do growing communities retain them? When I asked Fletcher why he chose to stay in Boulder, he said “everyone is very supportive and wants to help mentor you, so you learn a lot and have the ability to grow without feeling like you’re in a rat race.” Young people want to constantly be learning, contribute in a meaningful way and have the work they do be personally relevant and important to them.

It’s easy to talk about attracting more talent to your city, growing your community and creating a new spot on the map for startup innovation. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers of how many companies your community has launched, how many have raised capital, how many jobs they’ve created, and how many have exited. But to do any of this over a long period of time you need to pay attention to those young dreamers who are already in the community and engage and mentor them to reach their full potential.

  • Rick

    “those young dreamers”
    Don’t forget us old dreamers!

    • The old dreamers are just as important

      • Rick

        Any suggestions on the steps to getting started creating a start up community and co-working space? It’s not easy!

        • I wrote a book on this. Startup Communities.

          • It’s an excellent book, Rick. Well worth your time and unlock too real life barricades in the way. I wishI could somehow get Mr Feld to come talk some sense into Pensacola FL, as they are in process of crowing a new gatekeeper of “taking care of the business community” who’ll be around for long time. They are creating an entrepreneur center, and I asked how can I help the cause, and they honestly didn’t need any help. They have $400 million backing the plan. So there goes the open door policy. It’s too bad because the community deserves better.

          • Rick

            I’ve been working on starting a co-working space in my area. Not much support here. I see a bit of interest from people who want to do start ups. But I need more support from investors and the whole community.

          • Fletcher Richman

            Rick, I wrote a series of blog posts on how to start a student specific coworking space that may be helpful:

          • Rick

            Thanks Fletcher.

  • Romain Vak

    Yeahhh! Go Fletcher!

    • Fletcher Richman

      thanks Romain!!

  • What a PC way of saying the startup world survives on the physical and mental strength and stamina of the young to execute the staggering hours and pressures that make all of us pontificating old guys rich. 😉

    • Wow – that’s cynical.

      • 😛 How’s this for cynical? One might even consider that the advocacy and outright political contributing that goes on by VCs, et. Al on behalf of increasing H1-B visas, which would be disproportionately handed out to young, bright engineers from developing countries, serves this purpose as well. How interesting that these H1-B visa holders probably work for less in salary/equity when they get here than their American counterparts… 😉

        BTW, don’t let my jaded view of all this detract from the fact that you’re doing something good here!

        • Should I dare guess which candidate you are going to support in the upcoming Republican primary?

          • If you look closely, the pic is of Agent Trump (a pic I had my friend do using a photo of Agent Smith yowling an evil laugh having just absorbed the Oracle with a new coif, the Donald’s hair). This pic is designed to evoke my feeling about the Donald. He is surely Agent Trump. He’s here to fuck everybody (yes I used the F word) and is the results of the equations trying to balance themselves out. He is the reaction to the accelerating liberalization of our society. He makes liberals heads explode. I really like watching what he does, not because I’m necessarily conservative. I just like to see people who spend their time screaming at the top of their lungs not knowing what to say.

            And no, I will never vote for him.

          • Rick

            ” He’s here to fuck everybody”
            At least you know where you stand with him. He tells it like he sees it and that’s something you can build upon. When you have people who don’t gel around anything then you don’t know what to do.

  • In Western Mass we battle “brain drain”. We have 5 great schools in the area (Smith, UMass, Mt Holyoke, Hampshire, and Amherst). But so many students graduate and head out to Boston, NYC, or the west coast.

    We’ve been building pipelines from the schools into our startup mentorship and accelerator program (Valley Venture Mentors). Last year I got to mentor a startup founded by some super smart Hampshire grads that later moved to Boston.

    This year a startup I’ve mentored (Amherst grads) moved after the accelerator program. And yet another startup by Amherst grads I’m currently mentoring is in Mass Challenge and might end up moving to Boston.

    We seem to be attracting and mentoring the young talent but definitely need to improve on retaining them. Any suggestions on how we might improve retention? Or maybe it’s part of the overall growth of our humble startup community and as it strengthens we’ll do better?

  • Craig T. Wood

    I’ve been starting a little smaller than this by focusing on my company. Identifying the dreamers and the doers to make a difference internally. Once that force has been assembled and activated, we can begin to make a difference in the community, showing other people how it can be done — and inviting them to join us!

    Thanks for the continued inspiration!

  • I must say my initial reaction when I read the headline was a little negative as I see so much ageism in Silicon Vally and in the startup world in general but when I reflected on the post I think this is about community growth and vitality and your point is true for any community, not just startups. As soon as the young people stop coming coming back to a community or leaving when they graduate the community is in trouble.

    • Agree. I got several comments, including on Twitter, about how this was ageist. Older people are just as important to a startup community. My goal was not to polarize them but to explain one of the important dynamics around young people in a startup community.

  • mark gelband

    Great shout out to Fletcher, one of the most impressive young men I’ve had the chance to know.

    Those of us on life’s back nine, as my dear grandfather Sam used to say, owe it to ourselves to engage with generations younger – not only to mentor but to learn, to remain youthful and open minded.

    • Fletcher Richman

      thanks Mark! You’re one of many who has helped me get to where I am in my life both professionally and personally.

  • benbuie

    Kudos Fletcher!

  • This is a great article. Yourself, the Techstars community, and the rest of the older Entrepreneurs (shout to Raj, Howard, Jim, and others) in Bolder have set an outstanding example for us to follow. Also on a side note, Fletcher is the man!

  • Pointsandfigures

    Yup! I invested in two companies targeting co-working. One selfish reason is I saw it as an investment in the future and young people

  • Sue

    All hail the millennials! Rah Fletcher, who not only did all this, but showed so many of his peers a truly expansive vision of “possible.”

  • bradbernthal

    +1 on Fletcher’s impact at CU-Boulder. His senior year, we gave Fletcher Richman CU’s first annual Fletcher Richman Award, which goes to the student who does the most to push entrepreneurship forward during his/her time on campus. Fletcher highlights the importance of self-appointed leaders who identify a need, don’t wait for others to solve it, and relentlessly go about creating novel solutions.

  • Moral Max

    Any suggestions on how we might improve retention? Or maybe it’s part of the overall growth of our humble startup community and as it strengthens we’ll do better?Casquette NY

  • Shahab Kaviani

    I’m working on building mentoring networks for youth, if anyone is interested in doing something similar lets compare notes, or if you happen to be in the national capital region lets coordinate.

  • Jake Cohen

    @fletcherrichman:disqus Makes me even more excited to be working with you on big projects! You’re killing it!