Tag: entrepreneurial communities
I’m deep into writing my latest book. For now, the title is “Startup Communities: Creating A Great Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City.” I’m open to different titles – if you’ve got ideas just put them in the comments.
Following is the current table of contents. It’s still pretty dynamic as I’m adding stuff while I’m writing. I’ve also got a bunch of guest sections coming from all over the US (I’ve got a dozen so far) so as they come in, I’m trying to fit them in (which often generates a new, or different section). If you are a leader in your entrepreneurial community and have something you want to add, email me 500 – 1000 words.
I’m looking for feedback on this table of contents. If anything jumps out at you as wrong, unclear, in the wrong place, or missing, please leave me your thoughts in the comments.
My current goal is to have a first draft ready for circulation finished by 12/31/11. I plan to have the book published and available by 2/29/12. I’m self-publishing this one so there will be no delay in getting it out. I also plan to price it low so it has the potential for broad distribution.
Comments of any sort are welcome and encouraged! The table of contents, as of today, follows.
The Boulder Entrepreneurial Community
- Boulder As A Laboratory
- Before the Internet (1970 to 1994)
- Pre Internet Bubble (1995 – 2000)
- The Internet Bubble (2001 – 2002)
- The Beginning of the Next Wave (2003 – 2011)
Principals of a Sustainable Entrepreneurial Community
- Led By Entrepreneurs
- Have A 20 Year Commitment
- Welcome Everyone Into The Entrepreneurial Community
- Engage The Entire Entrepreneurial Stack
Leaders vs. Feeders
- What’s A Leader?
- What’s A Feeder?
- Service Providers
- The Importance of Both Leaders and Feeders
Keys of Leadership Culture
- Mentor Driven
- Non Zero Sum Game
- Porous Boundaries
The Power of Accelerators
- The Story of TechStars in Boulder
- TechStars Impact on Boston
- TechStars Impact on New York
- How Accelerators Are Different Than Incubators
- Why Incubators Don’t Work
- Patriarch Syndrome
- Complaining About Capital
- Reliance on Government
- Short Term Commitment
- Bias Against Newcomers
- Feeder Control
- Artificial Geographic Borders
- Risk Aversion
- Fear of Failure
- Zero Sum Game
A Different Example of University Involvement
- Silicon Flatirons
- The Components of CU Boulder
- Why They Don’t Work In Isolation
- Why The Community Matters Most
- The Real Value – Fresh Blood Into The System
Entrepreneurs vs. Government
- Bottom Up vs. Top Down
- Micro vs. Macro
- Action vs. Policy
- Impact vs. Control
- Self Awareness
Boulder’s Great, But What Are It’s Weaknesses?
- Parallel Universes
- Integration With The Rest of Colorado
- Lack of Diversity
- Give Before You Get
- The Power of Apprenticeship
- Everyone Is A Mentor
- Embrace Weirdness
- Be Open To Any Idea
- Be Honest
Myths About Entrepreneurial Communities
- We Need To Be Like Silicon Valley
- Venture Capital Matters
- Angel Investors Must Be Organized
How To Get Started
- Do or Do Not, There Is No Try
I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the great things about the Boulder entrepreneurial ecosystem. Over the past five years it’s been awesome to see things really blossom. But there are always problems of some sort. And we have a few here in Boulder which – in the spirit of helping understand how entrepreneur ecosystems work over time – are worth pointing out and talking about.
The most visible problem her is that Boulder’s booming businesses are running out of room. Downtown Boulder is not large – maybe 10 blocks by 5 blocks – and very few of the buildings are more than three stories tall. Once you get outside the downtown Boulder core, you get some larger buildings and some office parks, but you are no longer in the core of downtown. If you get in your car and drive to the next towns over, such as Broomfield and Westminster, there is plenty of office space and some larger buildings.
But many companies that start in downtown Boulder want to stay in downtown Boulder. The companies build their culture around being downtown, benefit from the extremely high entrepreneurial density of Boulder, and the dynamics of being in a downtown core rather than in a suburban office park.
Ironically, the Boulder politicians have always seemed to have a bias against “business in Boulder.” I’ve heard about it for the 16 years I’ve been here and experience it periodically. The zoning here is extremely restrictive and the decisions around zoning seem arbitrary. The division between retail, tourism, business, and residential seems in continual conflict. A few real estate developers own and control much of the existing office buildings in town and as a result end up having a zero sum approach to leasing space – specifically they jack rents up as high as possible when the market is tight, only to have them collapse when the market loosens up.
As I’ve watched local Boulder companies grow to be in the 100 to 300 employee range, I’ve watched them struggle with office space. If the trajectory of several of the local companies continues, this struggle will get more severe over the next 24 months. Inevitably, several of the larger companies will have to move outside of Boulder, even though they don’t want to. When this happens, our real estate owner friends will once again have a lot of empty space on their hands which will fill up more slowly with smaller firms as they grow into what’s available.
I’m not sure if this is a solvable problem given all of the different constituents involved. The contraints on Boulder’s growth have many advantages and are part of what makes Boulder as great as it is. But it’s also a weakness – one that is front and center right now as a number of companies who look like they could be long term, self-sustaining anchors of the Boulder entrepreneurial community have to figure out where to house 300 people going on 1,000.
I spent yesterday at University of Michigan with my partner Jason Mendelson (he’s a two time grad – economics undergrad and then law school.) This was my first trip to Ann Arbor and I had a great time. It was fun to have Jason show me his old haunts, our new friend Wes took good care of us throughout the day, and we met a ton of interesting people including a bunch of entrepreneurs.
In one of our early meetings I heard a great line from one of the members of the UM Tech Transfer Mentor-in-Residence program.
The line was “College is like a sandbox if you are an entrepreneur. Falling down doesn’t hurt much.”
This made me think of a brilliant phrase from Alex White, the CEO of Next Big Sound, in his TechStars Demo Day pitch. I can’t remember where in the presentation it was but Jason reminded me that one of Alex’s great moments was when he said something like “We don’t need to raise much money because we are cheap to keep alive.”
Throughout the day we met with a bunch of college students – law school students, undergrads, MBAs, and a few PhD’s. All of them were really lit up about entrepreneurship, were trying lots of stuff, had tons of questions, and challenged us to give them our views and feedback on what Ann Arbor needed to do to create a great entrepreneurial community.
At the end of the day we met with all the members in TechArb. This is the student accelerator – I was blown away by what they were doing. At some point I said to Jason “why doesn’t CU Boulder have a thing like this.” He had an answer that I’m still pondering, but effectively reinforced the initiative that the students and entrepreneurial leadership around the UMich were taking. During this session, I kept thinking “college is like a sandbox – it doesn’t hurt much when you fall down.”
Days like today are incredibly energizing for me. The level of enthusiasm and optimism among the people we met with was phenomenal. Their willingness and interest in learning and trying new stuff was apparent. And their understanding that plenty of things wouldn’t work, but they wouldn’t learn if they didn’t try, was front and center.
To all the folks I met with today, thanks for making my first trip to Ann Arbor really fun and interesting. And, even though I couldn’t care less about college football, good luck against Nebraska this weekend.
We launched Startup Colorado last week as part of the Startup America Partnership. I’m co-chairing this effort with Phil Weiser (Dean of CU Boulder Law School) and Jan Horsfall (CEO of Gelazzi). Dave Mangum (Silicon Flatirons Research Fellow) is the Executive Director and the effort is being sponsored by Silicon Flatirons at CU Boulder.
We’ve got a bunch of great entrepreneurs from Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs involved at this point and are reaching out to entrepreneurs in Fort Collins to help us get things up and running there. We’re taking a 20 year view to this effort so rather than create some grand conceptual plans, we’ve chosen six initiatives to go after in the first year. We are building off of the incredible entrepreneurial community that has been created in Boulder and starting by exporting several of the concepts that we know work, while trying some new things in Boulder. The six initiatives are:
- Export the magic of the Boulder tech community to Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs by expanding New Tech Meetups, Open Coffee Clubs, and Community Office Hours to these cities.
- Create an Entrepreneurial Summer Camp in Boulder for talented college students from throughout Colorado. These students will be housed at CU Boulder and work as paid interns for Boulder startups.
- Support entrepreneurial education in the Front Range by developing a New Venture Challenge business competition for Boulder-area high schools with the goal of seeding the other Front Range cities with leaders to expand the competition throughout Colorado.
- Evaluate current barriers that entrepreneurs face, including an assessment of what best practices are in place at entrepreneurial communities around the US and world. We’ll start by measuring in detail what’s going on in Boulder and try to create a framework for any city.
- Engage larger companies in the entrepreneurial ecosystem through commitments to help entrepreneurs.
- Build the Startup Colorado website to be a thorough database for information and connections.
We are very aware that there are plenty of other cities in Colorado, especially on the western slope, and hope to include them in Startup Colorado in year two. We know that some of the ideas above won’t work and we intend to make mistakes, kill things off quickly, and keep iterating on new ideas. Our goal is to do stuff, rather than just talk about stuff.
If you are an entrepreneur and want to get involved in helping lead the Startup Colorado effort, email me.
On November 9th, I’ll be helping launch Startup Colorado. We’ll be having a kickoff event at CU Boulder from 6:30pm – 8:35pm.
Startup Colorado will be one of the regional initiatives under the umbrella of the Startup America Partnership. Startup Colorado is an initiative to make a meaningful impact on entrepreneurship and new company creation in the Front Range. We want to expand the breadth and depth of entrepreneurial networks from Fort Collins to Boulder to Denver to Colorado Springs and lower barriers for people who want to build high-growth businesses.
At the launch event, our agenda will include talking specifically about what our plans and goals are for 2012. We’ll be operating under my first principle of entrepreneurial communities – that an entrepreneurial community must be lead by entrepreneurs. We have a panel discussing what has happened in Boulder over the past decade and one about the power of mentorship.
If you are an entrepreneur in Colorado, we’d love to have you join us. Please register at the Silicon Flatirons site. The event will be at the Wittemyer Courtroom, Wolf Law Building, University of Colorado on Wednesday, November 9, 2011; 6:30 – 8:35 PM.
I’m about to head out to TechStars New York Demo Day. Our investment in SideTour – one of the TechStars New York companies – was announced yesterday and I’m excited to introduce them along with hanging out with all of the other great entrepreneurs from this session. If you’ve been watching the Bloomberg TechStars series, we are doing the finale tonight where we meet with all of the teams and see where they are six months after the program ended. It’ll be happening live at 9pm ET/PT.
Since I haven’t yet figured out how to be in two places at the same time, I ended up recording a short video for a meeting on entrepreneurial communities that I was invited to. In it, I talk about my first of four principles of entrepreneurial communities, specifically that entrepreneurial communities must be led by entrepreneurs.
Following is the video along with my notes.
Four key principles of entrepreneurial communities
– led by entrepreneurs
– 20 year view from today
– engage the entire entrepreneurial stack
– continually get fresh blood into the system
briefly focus on the first – entrepreneurial communities have to be led by entrepreneurs
entrepreneurial communities have leaders and feeders
feeders include everyone that does things that are inputs into the entrepreneurial community
– angel investors
– venture capitalists
leaders are the entrepreneurs
– you don’t need a lot to make a huge difference
– a half a dozen is a great starting point
– but they have to commit for 20 years from today
all of the feeders have a role
– some feeders try to be leaders – this never works
– rhythm is wrong: 20 years vs. 4 of government
– personality is wrong: lead vs. support
– incentives are wrong: job vs. creative act
if the leadership of an entrepreneurial community is co-opted by local government
– there might be short term activity
– but it will fail over the long term to become sustainable
remember: the entrepreneurs need to be leaders
if you are a feeder:
– identify them
– encourage them
– support them
but let the entrepreneurs be the leaders
I am completely wiped out. It’s noon on Saturday in Colorado. I just had five days in a row of 18 hour days. I started the week in San Francisco and flew back home on Friday night from New York (with a red eye in between). It was awesome, but exhausting.
In addition to all the work, there was plenty of ambient emotion last week including some around mortality (Steve Jobs died and a close friend’s father died). In between everything, I spent a had a lot of meals with people I haven’t seen in a while, or whom I’m really close to. On top of that, there were hundreds of emails a day, plenty of telephone calls, and lots of random stuff to deal with. And plenty of running, coming off a weekend of back to back long runs (14 miles on Saturday, 16 miles on Sunday). And the Imperial March rang on my phone several times a day when Amy called, which always gave me a nice positive emotional charge.
I slept 12 hours last night. Amy made me a great breakfast and I’ve spent an hour catching up on unread emails from yesterday. But I’m just fried. And I’m going to crawl back into bed for a nap, go to a movie this afternoon, and then have a quiet dinner with Amy somewhere.
When I reflect on last week, I consciously spent very little time thinking deeply about anything. My runs were mostly mental garbage collection times, I slept on the airplanes, and I was in the moment the rest of the time dealing with the present. Sure, some of the discussions were longer term, strategic type things, but all the thought processes were surface level vs. deep discovery.
I’m working on a book called Entrepreneurial Communities. It’ll be done by the end of the year. I’ll likely self-publish this one as I don’t perceive any benefit to having a publisher now that I’ve done two books the traditional way. I also don’t want to introduce an additional six months into the writing to publishing cycle. I spent exactly zero time working on the book last week, although I had no expectation that I would.
But when I think about what I learned this week, and what I talked about, plenty of it pertained to the book. While I consciously spent very little time thinking about entrepreneurial communities, I unconsciously spent a lot of time thinking about it. And while my surface level discussions about longer term things didn’t impress me as deep thinking, by talking out loud about complicated issues I continued to modify the way I talk and think about them.
This is a style of mine. While I don’t “think out loud” like some do, I “refine my thought process” by talking about – and doing – things around the topics that I think deeply about. The development, creation, and sustaining of entrepreneurial communities is one of those topics that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about lately, and anyone who knows what I spent my time on knows that many of the things I work on pertain directly to the activities around these, rather than just the thoughts around these.
By being insanely busy in areas that I think (and care) deeply about, I’m actually engaged in an “active deep thinking” rather than a passive deep thinking. It’s easy to end a week like the last one (which is a pretty typical week for me) with the reaction of “wow – that was intense and insane, but I didn’t really have any time to think about what I wanted to think about.” That’s wrong – I spent the entire week actively thinking, which makes my ability to deeply think about topics I care about even more powerful and effective.
I’m sure there is some philosophy, or psychology, about how a human links passive and active around the formation of thoughts, ideas, and theories. I’m not going to think deeply about that, especially since it’s meta in the context of this post, but I’m certain that the answer the my question that I posed in the title is a resounding yes when you combine active and passive thinking.
I’m in San Francisco right now and then New York later this week. When I look at my schedule, and where I’m hanging out, I realize that even though I’m in two very big cities, I’m going to spending most of my time in a very small area.
When asked why Boulder is such a vibrant entrepreneurial community, I talk about a concept I call entrepreneurial density. Boulder is a small town – the city itself is only 100,000 people. Yet the number of entrepreneurs in Boulder is significant. And the number of people working for startups is off the charts. Start with the definition:
entrepreneurial density = ((# entrepreneurs + # people working for startups or high growth companies)) / adult population
My guess is that Boulder’s entrepreneurial density is one of the highest in the United States. I don’t have any empirical data to back this up – it’s a qualitative assessment based on my experience traveling around and investing in different parts of the US.
While population is one measure, I’ve also started thinking about geography as another. In the case of Boulder, the core of the entrepreneurial community is in downtown, which is a 10 x 4 block area. Even though downtown Boulder is small, it has different personalities (yes – we have an east side and a west side), yet you can walk from one end to the other in ten minutes. And, inevitably, when I walk across town I always bump into people I know.
The geography index matters even in places like New York. When I stay in New York, I generally stay within walking distance of Union Square. Sure, I end up in midtown or downtown occasionally, but most of my time is spent in a 20 x 8 block area. The bay area splits similarly – I’m in San Francisco within walking distance or a short drive of many of our bay area companies, but I’m on the other end of the planet from Palo Alto.
As I think more about entrepreneurial communities, I’m starting to expand my definition of entrepreneurial density to include by population and geography. This seems to matter a lot, even in very large entrepreneurial communities like New York and San Francisco.
I’m curious about experiences in other parts of the country, especially entrepreneurial communities that are growing or trying to reinvigorate themselves. How does entrepreneurial density (either geo or population) impact you?
I spent the day in Kansas City yesterday at the Kauffman Foundation for my first Startup Weekend board meeting. I’m very stingy with my non-profit board activity after deciding in 2005 to get off any non-profit board that wasn’t focused on entrepreneurship and until yesterday the only non-profit board I’m on is the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
I was at the first Startup Weekend in Boulder in July 2007. It was created by Andrew Hyde (he was the Community Manager for TechStars at the time). While I didn’t stay the entire weekend, my partner Seth Levine and I spent a bunch of time there on Saturday, had a blast, met some new people who became long term friends (my first extended experience with Micah Baldwin where Vosnap was created), and paid for a bunch (all of?) the food, which I recall included a lot of beer, chips, and bagels. In was a completely awesome experience.
Andrew ran about 80 Startup Weekends around the world before selling Startup Weekend to Marc Nager and Clint Nelsen in 2009 who were quickly joined by a third partner Franck Nouyrigat. Marc, Clint, and Franck turned Startup Weekend into a 501c(3), got a bunch of smart people involved as advisors such as David Cohen (TechStars CEO), expanded rapidly, got a grant from the Kauffman Foundation, and are now launching an even broader effort called the Startup Foundation.
My view is that the goals and behavior of Startup Weekend, going back to the very beginning when Andrew Hyde conceived it, are completely aligned with my view that entrepreneurial communities can be created in many places and a key attribute is activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack from aspiring entrepreneurs through experienced entrepreneurs and include all of the various constituencies around the entrepreneurial ecosystem. I saw that in Boulder in July 2007 and I see that when I hear of other people that have participated in Startup Weekends around the world.
I’m psyched to join some other super smart people on the board, which includes Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation; Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur and author; entrepreneurship lecturer at U.C. Berkeley and Stanford University; Greg Gottesman, managing director at Madrona Venture Group; Laura McKnight, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation; and Nick Seguin, manager of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation.
If you’ve never done a Startup Weekend, try one. I bet it changes your life.
This afternoon in Boulder I’ll be on a panel as part of the White House Startup America Roundtable. If you weren’t invited to the event, there is a web site called Reducing Barriers to Innovation that you can participate in.
Over the past few years, I’ve spent some time thinking about how the government can help entrepreneurship. It started with my role as the co-chairman of the Colorado Governors Innovation Council which was my first involvement in any formal way with any government initiative. More recently, I’ve focused my energy on the Startup Visa movement and the Startup America Partnership.
When I was reviewing the agenda for the Reducing Barriers to Innovation program, the goal of the program was pretty clear:
“The Startup America: Reducing Barriers event is a regional platform that allows federal agencies to hear directly, from entrepreneurs and local leaders like you, how we can achieve our goal of reducing the barriers faced by America’s entrepreneurs. Senior Obama administration officials need input on what changes are needed to build a more supportive environment for entrepreneurship. “
On my run yesterday, I mulled over the big activities that I thought the federal government could do to “build a more supportive environment for entrepreneurship.” I came up with five things that I think are relatively easy to measure over the long run. Following are short thoughts on each of these areas with one specific idea (in italics) that I think would materially impact entrepreneurship in America in a positive way.
Tax Policy: Incent people to invest in startups. While there are several well understood tax policies that could be implemented, the simplest is to provide long term tax breaks for individuals to invest in new startup companies. As with anything tax related, there are endless politics involved and many of the things that actual get rolled out are so obscure that they either never get implemented or are to difficult for investors to understand. Make it simple – eliminate capital gains if an individual (who is an accredited investor) invests equity (i.e. risk of 100% loss of investment) in a private company with less than 100 employees.
Immigration Policy: Make it easy for foreigner entrepreneurs to come to the US, or for foreign students to stay in the US, and start companies. This is the essence of what we’ve been trying to solve with the Startup Visa movement. The new Startup Visa Act of 2011 has plenty of improvements over the 2010 Act (which was introduced but never went anywhere) but still is stuck in Congress. If the White House wants to make a difference here, it should prioritize the Startup Visa separately from “broad immigration reform” and help get it passed since the Startup Visa is much less about immigration and much more about entrepreneurship, innovation, and jobs.
Regulatory Policy: Cut as much paperwork and bureaucracy out of the system. While this one is talked about regularly by the people in government that I know, the regulatory environment just seems to get more and more complicated. The solution so far has seemed to be “hire more people to process more paper faster.” This clearly hasn’t worked – how about taking the opposite approach and cut 20% of all jobs within various government agencies responsible for regulatory activity? I don’t care if you pay the fired people for two years – give them healthy severances and incentives to go work in the private sector. Necessity will drive efficiency.
Investment: Focus investment in university research. Then open source the results. The federal government has been a historically successful investor in innovation and the creation of new technologies, often through funding university research. If you want a good example of this, read Bright Boys. Unfortunately, this has gotten really messed up recently due to our byzantine patent system and the evolving dynamics of university technology licensing organizations. The government should allocate even more money to university research programs, but the results of this research should not be able to be patented and should be free for anyone to license. This would drastically change the technology licensing game by simplifying it and shifting economic incentives aggressively to companies that actually commercialize (or productize) this research, rather than simply claim ownership to the “intellectual property.”
Customer: The federal government is an enormous consumer of products and services. While it claims to want to do business with entrepreneurial companies and so far pays its bills in a predictable manner, it’s a miserable customer to deal with. The procurement process is painful, many entrepreneurial companies have to work through government contractor gatekeepers (who take up to a 30% tax for doing nothing other than being the contracting party), and often the execution and implementation process is a disaster. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a suggestion for how to improve this since there are so many rules and regulations around this – I guess the answer is “see regulatory policy” above.
I’m continuing to think through this and refine my thoughts on it, so as always I’m open to any and all feedback, including “Feld – you are such a knucklehead – that’s a stupid idea and will never work, but try this.” Fire away.