I received a Silicon Flatirons email from Phil Weiser this morning in his role as Silicon Flatirons Founder and Executive Director. My partners and I, especially Jason Mendelson, have been very involved with Silicon Flatirons over the past decade. I have a chapter in Startup Communities that uses CU Boulder – and specifically Silicon Flatirons – as an example of a much better way than the traditional approach (circa 2012) for a university to engage with the startup community.
One of the key leaders in this activity is Brad Bernthal. While BradB has become a close friend over the years, I think that he doesn’t get anywhere near the recognition he deserves for his endless and tireless engagement in and across the activities of CU Boulder + the Boulder startup community. It made me extremely happy to see Phil’s email and I decided to reblog it because I think it does a great job of highlighting some of the specific things that a professor like BradB can do to impact the startup community from a role in a university.
BradB – thank you for everything you do. You are awesome. Phil’s note to the Silicon Flatirons community follows.
Silicon Flatirons continues to support a range of entrepreneurship activity. Just consider what we have done over the past month or so: Crash Courses on GDPR compliance and how startups can sell products to large enterprises; student attorneys helping area startups through the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic; a candid interview by Krista Marks with David Brown and David Cohen of Techstars (recording here); an intellectual feast in the entrepreneurship conference and academic workshop examining the concept of “#GiveFirst” (recording here); and tonight‘s kickoff for our New Venture Challenge Information Technology (IT) track.
Supporting entrepreneurs in our community is a central part of our mission. The person who leads this initiative is Brad Bernthal, our Entrepreneurship Initiative Director. After building up our leadership in this area, we formally established this initiative with Brad at the helm in 2008. It is hard to overstate Brad’s impact on campus and in the community over the last decade. In addition to events that convene entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, students, and academics to learn from one another, as well as Brad’s extraordinary commitment to mentoring, his scholarship merits notice and praise.
After seeing it firsthand, Brad was intrigued by the well-regarded entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boulder. How does it work? Why do people get involved? Why do people contribute without knowing what they might get in return? Brad’s scholarship has focused on this important aspect of our economy. Brad is currently studying finance instruments used in startup investment and has two forthcoming articles on this topic. Just prior to this, his published research focused on generalized exchange within investment accelerators, the first legal scholarship about how accelerators work.
In addition to leading the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic that aids the startup community, Brad co-teaches a venture capital course at Colorado Law, along with Jason Mendelson of Foundry Group. Brad and Jason are now in their tenth year of teaching the VC course, which attracts a cross-campus mix of JD, MBA, and engineering graduate students. The course is so valued that students established an endowed scholarship fund in Brad’s name and created a separate campus entrepreneurship gift in Jason’s honor.
Brad is one of the leaders of the CU Boulder campus-wide entrepreneurship and innovation effort. He continually strives to connect the university and surrounding startup community. He collaborated with others on campus to launch and drive the New Venture Challenge for nine years. They successfully handed over the reins to campus leadership last year, and Brad continues to support the effort through the IT track, which Silicon Flatirons hosts.
And when he’s not doing all of the above, he is, well, giving first. He averages close to 400 1-on-1 coffee meetings each year with those in their entrepreneurial journeys. He also serves as a Techstars mentor and is on the Colorado Venture Capital Authority Board, which oversees the State of Colorado’s venture capital fund.
Brad embodies the spirit of collaboration: giving to and supporting others. It’s a privilege to have him as a core member of the Silicon Flatirons team.
I’m participating in an event at CU Boulder (sponsored by Silicon Flatirons) on 10/18/18 called Community, Creativity, and #GiveFirst.
#GiveFirst: A New Philosophy for Business in The Era of Entrepreneurship is the name of an upcoming book of mine. It’s also the mantra of Techstars.
In addition to a few of the usual cast of characters (me, Brad Bernthal, Jason Mendelson, Nicole Glaros) and some CU folks, a number of interesting people are joining us including Sam Zell, Stephanie Copeland, AnnaLee (Anno) Saxenian, Brian Broughman, Sonali Shah, and Krista Marks.
The first panel is titled #GiveFirst and is a moderated chat between me and Sam Zell. I promise it won’t be dull.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, already view #GiveFirst (which I first talked about in my book Startup Communities in the section “Give Before You Get”) as part of your life, or just want to engage in a stimulating SIlicon Flatirons sponsored afternoon, come join us.
My favorite Mark Twain post, which I share with my close friend Phil Weiser (the Dean of CU Boulder) is “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
There is a lot of rhyming going on. If you want a quick taste, go read today’s Fred Wilson’s blog post Coming Up With A Better Name For NYC’s Tech Community.
If you know me, you know that it think that it is tragic to label things Silicon Blah. New York isn’t Silicon Alley. It’s New York. And Fred has been ranting about this since at least 2008 when he made a public plea to bury the name Silicon Alley.
Surprise. In 2015 there’s apparently a new effort in New York to rekindle with force the name Silicon Alley.
Here are some rhymes I hear on an almost almost basis.
I was at HBS the other day talking to a bunch of second year students about anything they wanted to talk about (we just did 90 minutes of Q&A). I just let them take the conversation where they wanted. The questions were great, but some of what they were hearing about venture capital was scary as shit. A handful of them had jobs in venture capital firms and we talked about how to be effective as a freshly minted associated. They had heard insane suggestions like “The market is hot – do as many deals as you can before it all crashes.”
Um. Yeah. What? Are you fucking kidding me? It’s not about doing the deals. If you do a bunch of shitty momentum deals as fast as you can, you are simply emulating what most VC firms (including the one I was part of) did in 1999 when we committed an entire $600 million fund in nine months. At one point that fund was up over 2x on paper (TVPI for those of you that like names for the different VC metrics.) 15 years later the financial performance (DPI) of that fund is a disaster. We didn’t get lucky and have one company that bailed us out. Too bad for us.
I told them it’s not about getting into the deals. It’s about building real value and then over time monetizing your investments. Having a strategy, being deliberate, and executing that strategy over a long period of time.
But suddenly so much of the focus is about getting into the deals. Venture Investing Just Had Its Biggest Q1 in 15 Years, Says PwC Report. $13.4 billion in Q1 in 1020 deals. Some other statements, all obvious stuff based on what everyone is seeing on a daily basis. But the headlines, and the focus, is all about input. Now, I haven’t read the PWC Report so they might have a deep analysis on the exit math, and then input / output dynamics that justify $13.4 billion in Q1 as a reasonable number. Or a segmentation analysis that shows that $7 billion of it is actually a substitution effect for what would have otherwise been public money going into IPOs, so really it’s only $6.4 billion going into venture capital.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
Now, don’t misinterpret what I’m suggesting. The easy sound bite “Feld thinks there is a bubble.” But that’s not even close to what I am saying. I have absolutely no idea whether there is a bubble. I have no idea where we are in the current part of the cycle. I have no idea what the dynamics of the cycle are.
But it’s easy to see the rhymes. And they are super helpful in understanding, and reinforcing, the best way to execute an effective strategy. But only if you are looking for them, thinking critically, and acting accordingly.
Don’t be the scorpion in the famous scorpion / frog parable. And always remember that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
I’ve been working on the Startup Visa since I first wrote about it on 9/10/2009 in my post The Founders Visa Movement. While there has periodically been improvement on the margins on the issue, I think our federal government has broadly failed us on this front.
So, I’m going to try something different. Yesterday, CU Boulder announced a new Entrepreneurs in Residence program to be administered by the Silicon Flatirons program. While the program is open to any entrepreneur, including those in the US, we are particularly focused on international entrepreneurs.
Through extensive work with Craig Montuori and leadership from Phil Weiser, the Dean of CU Law and head of Silicon Flatirons, we’ve come up with a neat approach that follows from the work that was done in Massachusetts, led by Jeff Bussgang and others, and originally approved as a major state initiative, only to see its funding pulled back after the recent election cycle.
The program in Colorado follows a similar approach with one major difference. It’s privately funded and doesn’t rely on anything from the state. My wife Amy Batchelor and I are putting up most of the funding for the first year program. It’s a major gift from us and more of me trying to put my money where my mouth is on issues I care about.
In the next 12 months, we’ll have four EIRs as part of the pilot program. They will be employed by CU Boulder for 20 hours per week and will receive a stipend of $25,000 per academic year (which starts in July). We’ll cover the cost of the H1-B visa if necessary, which is easy to acquire because H1-B visas for universities are uncapped.
Importantly, consistent with university policy and applicable law, entrepreneurs in the program will be free to work on their existing entrepreneurial ventures or start a new company.
We have a broad model for engagement in Boulder for new entrepreneurs. Between Techstars, Galvanize, Silicon Flatirons, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, and many other accelerators, there will be significant mentorship opportunities. In the summer time, they’ll be part of Startup Summer (run by Startup Colorado in conjunction with Silicon Flatirons) along with being paired with a new MIT MBA Summer Internship in Boulder that I’m about to roll out (ah – foreshadowing…) And, with our broad #GiveFirst attitude across the startup community, they’ll be welcomed with open arms.
I’ve gotten worn out on the federal level immigration fight. I’m happy to continue to participate in advocacy for change around visas for entrepreneurs, but I’ve decided to focus my energy, and money, on exploring and experimenting with state-oriented solutions.
If you are interested in applying for one of the four EIR slots, just drop me an email and I’ll plug you in.
As we roll into the weekend, and I start another digital sabbath, I’ve got the question “what really matters about being human” rolling through my mind.
I spent the afternoon at the Silicon Flatirons conference SciFi and Entrepreneurship – Is Resistance Futile? I thought it was phenomenal and remarkably thought provoking. I came back to my office to find Dane and Eugene playing TitanFall on my 75″ screen. In a few minutes I’m heading out to dinner with my parents, Amy, and John Underkoffler of Oblong who was in town for the conference. The juxtaposition of another intense week rolling into the weekend and a day off the grid intrigues me.
The first panel was a fireside chat between me and William Hertling. William is one of my favorite sci-fi writers who I think has mastered the art of near term science fiction. If you haven’t read any of his three books, I encourage you to head over to William’s website or Amazon and grab them now.
At the end of our fireside chat, we were asked a question. I heard the question as about mortality so I went on a long space jam about how I’ve been struggling with my own mortality for the past 18 months since having a near fatal bike accident (one inch and it would have been lights out.) Up to that point I felt like I had come to terms with my own mortality. I would often say that I believed that when the lights go out, they go out, and it’s all over. And I’m ok with it.
But last fall I realized I wasn’t. And during my depression at the beginning of 2013 I thought often about mortality, how I thought about it, whether I was bullshitting myself for the previous 25 years about being ok with it, and what really mattered about being alive, and being human.
I then handed things over to William. He proceeded to answer the question that had been asked, which was about morality, not mortality.
When he finished and I’d realized what had just happened, I emitted a gigantic belly laugh. And then for the next couple of hours I kept applying the lens of “what really matters” to the discussion about science fiction, entrepreneurship, and the human race.
From the meditation I’ve been doing, I’m definitely exploring “listening to my thoughts” rather than obsessing over them. I’m recognizing that the narrative I’m creating in my brain is just my narrative and doesn’t necessarily have any real meaning, or importance, at all. 150 years from now, I don’t believe any of it will matter. And then, suddenly, the great John Galt quote “It’s not that I don’t suffer, but that I know the unimportance of suffering” comes to mind.
Sometime during the fireside chat, the statement popped out that “I believe the human species dramatically overvalues its importance to the universe.” I think this is going to be a radical point of conflict with the evolution of machines over the next 50 years. At this stage, it’s a part of what gives our lives meaning. There are so many complicated things that happen on a daily basis that create stress, conflict, controversy, and emotional responses. All of them theoretically generate meaning, but when I “listen to my thoughts” I recognize the unimportance of them.
And then I start searching for what really matters. Both to me, and about being human.
See you Sunday.
On Thursday March 6th I’m doing my first public talk about my newest book – Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors.
If you’ve got a copy, bring it and I’ll sign it. If you don’t have a copy, our friends at Silicon Valley Bank have sponsored one for each of you. But don’t be bashful, every good writer loves it when you buy a book also, even when he gives one away.
Since this is the first time I’m giving a talk on Startup Boards, it’ll be an alpha talk. It’ll be rough. I’m trying out some new material. And I’ll be looking for a lot of feedback from anyone who attends – either directly or by email later – about how to make it extra special great.
I probably gave my talk about Startup Communities 20 times before I hit my stride. The feedback that I got along the way was extremely helpful. So, in addition to learning something and getting a free signed book, you’ll be helping me out.
Also, everyone who attends will get a second extra special gift. It’s a surprise, so you’ll have to be there to learn about it.
You can sign up for the event at the Silicon Flatirons event page. Or hit the big Register Now button at the top of this post.
Larry is one of the originals in the Boulder biotech scene, having founded numerous successful companies including NeXagen (acquired by Gilead) and Synergen (acquired by Amgen). He’s been a professor at CU Boulder since 1980 and was the chairman of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department from 1988 to 1992. So – when you think of the evolution of the Boulder startup community around life sciences, Larry has been involved since the beginning.
I’ve gotten to know Larry over the past few years through a few different vectors. He and my dad (Stan Feld) have become friends and my dad participates in Larry’s annual GoldLab Symposium. He and I have spent some 1:1 time together and I’m blown away by how similar some of our values and deeply held beliefs are. In Larry, I’ve definitely found a mentor and someone whose path I can learn from as I get older.
Next week on February 18th, I have the honor of having a conversation with him as a part of the Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurs Unplugged series. He’ll be telling his story, and with the help of the audience, I’ll explore his background that resulted in a successful career. I encourage you to join us.
Tomorrow night (Tuesday, 1/29) I’ll be doing another Entrepreneurs Unplugged – this time I’ll be interviewing Jeremy Bloom, the co-founder of Integrate.
We are investors in Jeremy’s company which is doing extraordinarily well. Jeremy has been a total joy to work with and has an amazing story. If you recognize his name, “olympic ski champion”, “college football star”, and “NFL football player” may come to mind. He’s also the founder of a dynamite non-profit called Wish of a Lifetime.
We’ll be at the University of Colorado Law School, Room 101 from 6:15 – 7:45 PM with a reception to follow.
Register to join us for a fun and interesting evening.
My friends Phil Weiser and Brad Bernthal at Silicon Flatirons (who are a big part of the book Startup Communities) are hosting me in Boulder on Monday for a “Crash Course: Startup Communities – Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.”) It’s happening at CU Boulder from 6:15pm – 7:45pm and Lesa Mitchell from the Kauffman Foundation will be joining us for a discussion. Lesa and her colleague Paul Kedrosky has also been a big supporter and influencer on my thinking in this area.
If you want a preview of what I’ll be talking about, Steve Blank, the successful entrepreneur and brilliant brain behind the Customer Development idea, has an outstanding and thorough (like everything Steve does) review of Startup Communities up on his site.
This is the first public session in Boulder about Startup Communities. I’m in Chicago today at the Startup America Regional Summit where I’m talking about Startup Communities with leaders of about 35 regions that have embraced the Startup America movement. I’ve been having a lot of fun talking about the book, getting feedback from entrepreneurial leaders around the country, and meeting with some new and interesting entrepreneurs who are working on super cool businesses. But it’s always fun to have home court advantage and I’m very much looking forward to spending time talking about Startup Communities with a bunch of people in Boulder who helped me figure all this stuff out.
If you are in Boulder on Monday 10/15 and want to come hang out, register for the event now (it’s free) and come join us.
I spent all day Sunday at Silicon Flatirons’ Digital Broadband Migration Conference. This is a key national conference held in Boulder at the intersection of technology and public policy with a particular focus on the Internet. This year’s conference subtitle was “The Challenges of Internet Law and Governance.”
I was pondering something all morning that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. My close friend Phil Weiser (who is now the Dean of the CU Law School and hosts the conference) kicked it off and then handed things over to Vint Cerf (now at Google and one of the original architects of the Internet). A great panel full of engineers titled Tech Tutorial Backdrop: An All IP Network and Its Policy Implications came next, followed by a talk from Colorado Senator Michael Bennet.
I’m a supporter of Michael’s and even though he originally co-sponsored PIPA, he eventually understood that it was flawed legislation and got behind the effort to oppose it. As a co-sponsor he had plenty of influence in the background on the process and I’m glad that he spent the time to listen to the tech community, understand why it was bad legislation, and take action. It was great to see him at this particular conference given its national perpective on a key intersection of technology and policy.
After Michael came a panel I was on titled The Digital Broadband Migration in Perspective. David Cohen (EVP of Comcast), Larissa Herda (CEO of tw telecom inc.), and I were the loud mouths on this one. David and I had very different perspectives on many things which reached a head when he asked what my reaction to all of the major TV and cable channels blacking out for three hours and putting up messages that said “this is what TV would be like without SOPA/PIPA” (basically – the opposite of the Internet blackout that occurred on January 18th). While he asserted this would be an abuse of corporate power and responsibility, implying that the Internet companies participating in the Internet blackout where behaving inappropriately, my response was that “it would be fucking awesome – they should do whatever they want – and better yet no college kid in the world would notice.” There was plenty more in that vein, but this was tame compared to what came next.
The panel after lunch was a debrief on what just happened with SOPA/PIPA. Mark Lemley (Stanford Law Professor) and Gigi Sohn (President of Public Knowledge) explained things from an anti-SOPA/PIPA perspective; Jonathan Taplin (Annenberg Innovation Lab, University of Southern California) and Michael Fricklas (General Counsel of Viacom) took a pro-SOPA/PIPA perspective, and Michael Gallagher (CEO of Entertainment Software Association) and Judge Stephen Williams (U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit) took a third perspective that I couldn’t quite parse. After everyone got a chance to give a 7 – 13 minute presentation, the conversation degenerated quickly into a very polarized argument where, in my opinion, facts were left at the doorstep by several of the participants. As the fact vs. fiction dynamic escalated, emotions ran hot and the discourse degenerated to a point of near uselessness. With every moment, the conversation became even more polarized, even though the anti-SOPA/PIPA folks would say things like I’m not going to defend SOPA/PIPA as it was bad legislation, we need to solve the problem of … in reaction to the pro-SOPA/PIPA folks saying If you assert that there are only 50 bad sites that represent 80% of the illegal content in the world, and we already have tools too take those sites down, what exactly are you talking about. While there were hugs and handshakes after the panel ended, it definitely felt like there was plenty of grinfucking going around.
After this panel I ducked out for an hour to go meet Julius Genachowski (chairman of the FCC). We’ve crossed paths a few times but never spent any thoughtful time together. We had a nice 30 minute meeting where we talked about the dynamics going on at the conference and in Washington DC. He gave me one phrase which caused me to stop, ponder it for a minute, and respond with “that’s exactly right.” He said:
“What you are observing is the difference between compromise and problem solving.”
My brain is an engineers brain. I’m focused on learning and solving problems. Over the past few years I’ve been completely baffled by my experience interacting with politicians and their staffers. When I present a solution to a problem (e.g. the Startup Visa) I immediately watch a negotiation begin to ensue. Three years later, even non-controversial, obviously beneficial things like Startup Visa are still stuck in a discussion.
When I talked to folks about how bad the SOPA/PIPA legislation was, they would respond “what’s the counter proposal?” My first response was usually “What do you mean? It’s horrifyingly bad legislation that shouldn’t even be considered.” The response to this was “Yes, but if I am going reject it, I need to come with a counter-proposal.”
Julius explained to me that Washington runs on a compromise mentality. You propose something and then begin negotiating from there. Innovative companies, where I spent almost all of my time, run on a problem solving mentality. You have a problem – you solve it. When I reflected on the panels during the day, the engineers and engineering heavy panels were problem solving and the policy / lawyer heavy panels were fighting over polarized positions which, if they converged, would be a convergence based on compromise rather than problem solving.
This generated a breakthrough insight for me. I’ve been increasing frustrated with politics and public policy discussions that I’ve been part of. It’s because I’m in a problem solving mode. While some of the folks I’m interacting with are also in this mode (which causes me to stay engaged), many are in a compromise mode. They don’t care whether or not we actually solve the root cause problem – they just have an agenda that they want to get into the mix legislatively and are negotiating for it with the goal of reaching a compromise.
We ended the day with a wonderful talk from Senator Mark Udall. I’m a huge fan of Mark’s – he’s one of the most thoughtful people in government I’ve gotten to interact with. Colorado is lucky to have him as he listens to his constituents here and acts on their behalf, rather than some other agenda. He discussed his views on innovation and PIPA (which he opposed early) and then made a strong appeal for the Startup Visa, increased STEM education, and a long term focus on innovation as the base for job creation. He then took another 90 minutes to meet with a smaller set of entrepreneurs and public policy folks from the conference to hear what was on their mind. Mark definitely was listening and trying to understand what issues he should be looking out for that had similar negative impacts like PIPA.
We need a lot more problem solvers like Mark in the mix, especially in positions of power in government. And, the problem solvers should insist that the path is problem solving, not compromise.