Tag: startup communities

Nov 2 2018

A Great Example of A Professor’s Involvement With A Startup Community

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.

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Oct 31 2018

Innovation and Venture Capital in New Jersey

If you are a fan of Startup Communities, there’s a lot going on around new initiatives on this front.

Ian Hathaway and I are hard at work on a book called The Startup Community Way, which is modeled after Eric Ries’ evolution of The Lean Startup to his recent book The Startup Way. I’m a big fan and long-time friend of Eric’s so I hope he’s ok with our using the same conceptual labeling approach from the evolution of the Startup Communities concept to a much broader audience than just startup communities (Eric – if you aren’t, tell me and I’ll adjust …)

One of my approaches to writing a book is to blog a lot of early content and get reactions to it. It helps me frame my thinking, connects me with people who are interested in what I’m writing, and forces me to put out content in public that I have to work hard at, but in bite-sized chunks. Ian has bought into this idea so he and I have a steady stream of content for The Startup Community Way coming on the StartupRev website.

An example is a post we put up today titled Thoughts on the New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund. If you have feedback for us (stuff you think we got wrong, or stuff you think we should reinforce, or any examples you’ve experienced directly) we’d love to hear from you either in the comments or by email.

Techstars is also hard at work on a bunch of stuff around ecosystem development (where communities and ecosystems are different things – Ian and I will have a post up on that soon.)

If this topic is interesting or important to you, either as a leader or a feeder in a startup community, or someone in government, academic, or a large company who is exploring or participating in innovation in a geographic ecosystem, give me a shout anytime!

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Jul 18 2018

Binary Star Startup Communities

I had dinner with Ian Hathaway a few weeks ago when I was in London. It was a delight to see him in person. While we’ve been collaborating on Startup Communities 2 (which we are now calling The Startup Community Way), which will come out at the “end-of-the-year-ish,” having dinner was a delight and reminded me how much I like him.

A few months ago he wrote a post on Waterloo, and activity in Canada in general, titled The North Star. It’s a good post worth reading but reminded me of a concept that we are weaving into The Startup Community Way.

There is an increasing number of “binary star” startup communities. If you aren’t familiar with binary stars, they are a system of two stars in which one star revolves around the other or both revolve around a common center.

Boulder and Denver is a canonical example of this, where each city has developed a strong startup community, but the relationship between the two makes each stronger as they grow and develop.

Other examples that I’m familiar with that jump out at me include:

  • Toronto – Waterloo
  • Detroit – Ann Arbor
  • Provo – Salt Lake City
  • Cleveland – Akron
  • Brisbane – Ipswich
  • Wellington – Auckland
  • Vancouver – Victoria
  • Tampa Bay – St Petersburg

If you know of other binary star startup communities, especially if you are a participant in one, leave a note in the comments.

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Jun 28 2018

Dystopian Technocapitalist Hellscape

Mona List Overdrive has come true. And Pattern Recognition is on the horizon.

I knew that Dominos was paving America’s roads, but I didn’t realize they were branding them.

Farhad Manjoo has a good article in the NYT titled How Tech Companies Conquered America’s Cities. A key trope in sci-fi is that corporations will take over, well, everything. And, now that corporations are considered people (at least partially), why shouldn’t they take over?

Would it be weird if I sold sponsorship rights to my first name? “Dominos Feld” anyone? Or maybe “Amazon Feld.”

As usual, Neal Stephenson and Wiliam Gibson were (and continue to be) prescient about our future. I’m considering taking all the labels off of everything I own. And, if you are interested in sponsoring my first name, I’m open to offers and suggestions.

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Apr 4 2018

CU Boulder’s New Venture Challenge 10th Anniversary

Tonight, the New Venture Challenge at CU Boulder is having its 10th anniversary. It’s happening at the Boulder Theater from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm and is open to the public. Register here to attend if you are interested.

My partner Jason is leading the judging panel, which includes:

  • Abby Barlow, partner and director of Investment Research at Crestone Capital
  • Stephanie Copeland, former president of Zayo Group and current executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade
  • Anthony Shontz, managing director of Private Equity at Partners Group

Dan and Cindy Caruso and Amy and I contributed the prizes, which total $100,000.

A decade ago the creation of the NVC was inspired by the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. I was involved in the early years (1992 – 1996) as a judge and funded a number of companies that went through the MIT $100K (which was called the MIT $10K at the time.) The entire experience was foundational for me, both as an entrepreneur and an early angel investor (I started investing in 1994 after I sold my first company at the end of 1993.)

Over a decade ago, Brad Bernthal and Phil Weiser were putting real energy into Boulder Startup Community. I discuss their efforts, and impact, in my book Startup Communities (which was published in 2012). One of the things I suggested was doing something like the MIT $100K. I remember a longish discussion with Brad Bernthal and my partner Jason about the history of it and how it unfolded over the first decade.

Bernthal and Jason grabbed this and ran with it. A decade later, that discussion now seems like ancient history. But, for anyone who knows my rant about having a long-term view around startup communities (at least 20 years), we are now 10 years into the NVC journey. And, it has really hit its stride.

I’m excited about tonight’s event and am really looking forward to seeing the companies compete! I hope to see you there if you are in Boulder.

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Mar 6 2018

Hyperbolic Headlines About Silicon Valley

The hyperbolic headlines are once again accompanying the articles about Silicon Valley. A Sunday NY Times article titled Silicon Valley Is Over, Says Silicon Valley kicks off what I expect is another wave of this. It references a recent Wired article titled Everyone Hates Silicon Valley, Except Its Imitators,

Go read them all and then tune back in here. I’ll wait.

Buried deep within the NYT article is an admission. “Complaints about Silicon Valley insularity are as old as the Valley itself” followed by an anecdote about Jim Clark moving to Florida during the dotcom era. Blink twice if you don’t know who Jim Clark is; blink once if you downloaded Netscape from an FTP site somewhere when it was still called Mosiac. And, blink three times if you realize that Netscape is now owned by Oath, which is a subsidiary of Verizon, which is headquartered in New York, and is the merger of Bell Atlantic (Philadelphia), NYNEX (New York), and GTE (which, awesomely, bought BBN, created GTE Internetworking, spun it off as Genuity after the Bell Atlantic merger, which was then acquired out of bankruptcy by Level 3 (Broomfield, Colorado – adjacent to Boulder) which is now owned by CenturyLink (Louisiana)). Blink four times if you are still here and followed all of that. Kind of entertaining that Netscape led us to Monroe, Louisiana.

Now, go read Ian Hathaway’s post titled Silicon Valley is Not Over. He nails it.

Dan Primack waded in with a tweet.

It’s worth clicking through and reading the comment thread. It’s delightful.

Silicon Valley is not over. Over 100 years since its notional inception, it’s a fascinating and amazing ecosystem. But it’s also not the only place you can create technology companies. I’m sitting in a hotel in New York and, according to a recent article from Bloomberg, New York Will Never Be Silicon Valley. And It’s Good With That.

The real story is that you can create startups, and thriving startup communities anywhere. Imagine the NYT article was titled “In a Moment of Introspection, Silicon Valley VCs Realize That There Are Tech Startups Outside of Silicon Valley.” Nah – that wouldn’t get as many clicks.

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Dec 7 2017

Welcoming Bobby Schnabel Back to CU Boulder

Bobby Schnabel has returned to CU Boulder as the College of Engineering and Applied Science faculty director for entrepreneurial leadership, external chair of computer science, and campus thought-leader on computing.

I first met and worked with Bobby in the mid-2000s at the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), where he was a co-founder and on the board with me. Bobby is awesome and I’m really psyched he’s back in Boulder at CU.

While you may not know Bobby, this is a huge add for CU Boulder and the Boulder Startup Community. Bobby has a long history with CU Boulder. He was on the computer science faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder from 1977-2007, and Vice Provost for Academic and Campus Technology and Chief Information Officer from 1998-2007, and founding director of the Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society (ATLAS) 1997-2007.

In 2007 when he left CU Boulder to become the Dean of the School of Informatics and Computer at Indiana University I was bummed for CU Boulder (but happy for Bobby and Indiana University.) When he joined the Association for Computer Machinery as CEO in 2015, I had the sense in the back of my mind that he might make his way back to Boulder at some point.

Bobby is returning to CU Boulder to strengthen the partnership between the incredible tech business and startup community we have in the Boulder area and in Colorado, and the tech-programs at CU Boulder.

Welcome back, Bobby! And, if you are in the Boulder Startup Community and want to connect with Bobby at some point, just give me a shout.

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Oct 2 2017

Book: The Innovation Blind Spot

Recently, my friend Ross Baird came out with a new book, The Innovation Blind Spot. In the book, Ross outlines and diagnoses a problem that I’ve been exploring for over a decade: our innovation economy neglects many people and ideas.

Ross kicks off the book with some pretty stark statistics: despite the fact that promising startup communities (such as my hometown of Boulder) are thriving, in most communities in America, firm creation is the lowest it’s been in a generation. With women making up less than 10% of new startups that are funded and African-Americans and Latinos making up less than 1%, it’s obvious we’re not seeing the best ideas in our innovation ecosystem.

Ross’ book is important because he focuses on solving this problem through HOW we invest, not just WHAT we invest in. It’s not enough for tech firms to say “we need more diversity – let’s go find different founders!” The design in how we find companies, perform diligence and make investments have unintentional side effects that cut many people out. One example highlighted in the book is that the very act of “pitching” a business tends to favor men (a Wharton study showed that men were 60% more likely to raise money pitching the exact same business as women.)

I’ve been thinking about ways to design startup communities to be more inclusive. A classic investor problem is a tension between wanting to be accessible to new founders while at the same time giving existing portfolio companies the time they deserve. When you’re getting a thousand pitches a year, you often tend to gravitate towards the people you already know and ideas that are familiar. Techstars has been a key part of addressing this issue for us as we’ve met thousands of companies we wouldn’t have otherwise and have invested – both directly and through our investment in Techstars – in a wide variety of founders all over the world.

Ross’s book also explores ways to build a stronger pipeline of different types people. As I’ve dug further into the problem, I’ve seen consistent ways that many people are excluded. For example, entrepreneurs go to conferences and network in order to find customers and investors. If you don’t have personal savings or family members who can help support you, you can’t afford that plane ticket. Organizations like the Techstars Foundation are working on addressing problems like this.

My favorite part of the book is when Ross talks about how places and communities can support their own founders. Ross’ final section is titled with one of my favorite words: “Topophilia“, or “love of place”. It’s a phrase I’ve embraced as we’ve built our startup community in Colorado and have tried to share with other communities around the world, both in my travels and through my book, Startup Communities. Whether you live in Cincinnati or Jakarta, you are far better able to help the entrepreneurs in your hometown than I am. I think that in order for us to ensure that entrepreneurs flourish everywhere, communities need to embrace them, and I’ve enjoyed being part of a community of folks like Ross who are trying to help communities do this worldwide.

Ross’s book is a quick, entertaining, informative read that diagnoses how we can do better as a startup community, and more importantly, focuses on the HOW. I encourage everyone in the innovation economy to read it.

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Dec 29 2016

The Year of Startups Everywhere

I’m not a predictor so you won’t find me participating in the “best/worst of 2016” and “predictions for 2017” lists. But there is a trend that feels inevitable to me: “Startups everywhere.”

While Agent Smith was wrong, I don’t think I am. When the phrase “Startup Communities” started to become mainstream around 2012, I made the strong assertion that you could create a startup community in any city with at least 100,000 people. I used Boulder as a canonical example of it in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City and have been beating the drum about startups everywhere ever since.

While the meme that the only place to build a company is in Silicon Valley has softened, there’s still a strong belief that the best place to be if you are a first time entrepreneur is Silicon Valley. My argument is, and has never been, against Silicon Valley, but rather for the rest of the planet.

I saw three articles yesterday that reinforced the inevitability of startups everywhere.

When I reflect on where some of our investments are, they are in cities like Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Minneapolis, Boulder, Denver, Charlotte, Lexington, New York, and Boston. And then there’s Techstars which is now all over the world.

Sure – we have plenty of investments in Silicon Valley, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve asserted for a long time that Silicon Valley is a collection of startup communities, which includes San Francisco, Marin (the first board I was on – in 1994 – was for a company in San Rafael), Oakland, Redwood *, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park, and Sunnyvale. Or you can just call it San Francisco, Oakland, and the Peninsula. Or maybe toss SOMA in. Or, well, does it really matter?

As a bonus, I’ve been hearing Amazon referred to regularly by mainstream media (and some people in the tech world) as a Silicon Valley company. Having invested in and spent a lot of time in Seattle over the last 30 years, I smirk whenever I hear this. I love seeing articles like How Amazon innovates in ways that Google and Apple can’t which should prompt entrepreneurs to Think Different (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

As a bonus, I leave you with Amazon’s patent for a flying warehouse.

While Silicon Valley is an amazing thing, if you are in the rest of the world, you are in a special and interesting place. Don’t lose sight of that.

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Nov 27 2016

John Lilly On The Role of Simplicity and Messaging

Yesterday I talked briefly about taking a break from media. However, I wasn’t precise, as the one thing I read each week is the New York Times Sunday paper. When Amy and I lived in Boston we started reading it every Sunday morning and continued whenever we travelled. Several years ago I started having it delivered to our house on Sunday morning and it is a delightful Sunday morning ritual for us.

Some Sundays I read it quickly – other Sundays I savor it. I generally spend most of my time in The New York Times Book Review, Sunday Business, Sunday Review, and The New York Times Magazine. I turn all the other pages, only stopping when I find a headline that interests me. For example, I learned today from “Jogging the Brain” that running increases neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells, which is good for recovering from a night of too much drinking. I’m not drinking alcohol right now so this doesn’t apply, but it reminded me of something that I know from experience for some day in the future when I drink too much.

One of my favorite sections is the Sunday Business Corner Office by Adam Bryant. I read them all and almost always learn something or have an idea reinforced. I also learn about people I often know – either directly or by one degree of separation.

Today’s Corner Office is with John Lilly, a partner at Greylock Partners, is titled Simplify the Message, and Repeat OftenI’ve only met John once in person (for breakfast at the Hotel Gansevoort in NY) but have long followed him on Twitter and occasionally exchanged messages with him. From this near distance, I respect his thinking a lot.

Under the question “Early leadership lessons for you?” he reinforced something I strongly agree with.

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

I think it’s worth repeating.

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

Did you see what I did there?

When we raised the first Foundry Group fund in 2007 we took over 100 first meetings. We told our story several hundred times. As part of it was a slide called “Strategy.” I still repeat the elements of that slide regularly, a decade later, as our core strategy has not changed. Sure – we’ve modified the implementation of parts of the strategy, and learned from what has worked and what hasn’t worked, but the fundamental strategy is unchanged.

When I wrote Startup Communities in 2012, I came up with a concept I call The Boulder Thesis. I have described it in similar language over 1,000 times in various talks and interviews I’ve given since then. If you want the three minute version, just watch the video below.

While I’ve learned a lot about startup communities over the past four years, my fundamental thesis has not changed. When I come out with the book Startup Communities – The Next Generation (or whatever I end up calling it) in 2018, it’ll incorporate all of these new ideas and things I’ve learned, but will be built on a simple message that I expect I’ll say another thousand times.

I regularly see leaders change what they say because they get bored of saying the same thing over and over again. It’s not that they vary a few words, or change examples, but they change the message. As John says so clearly,

“So my big lesson was the importance of a simple message, and saying it the same way over and over. If you’re going to change it, change it in a big way, and make sure everyone knows it’s a change. Otherwise keep it static.”

Enough said, for now.

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