Tag: startup community

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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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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Feb 6 2016

Upfront and the Power of Startup Community in LA

I’m finally home after three solid weeks on the road which included Austin, Dallas, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. It’s delightful to sit in my green zebra chair in Amy’s upstairs office, with a cup of tea, the Diana Krall channel playing on Pandora, and just catch up on stuff.

The extra points from my trip was getting to spend some face time with close friends and family that I haven’t seen in a while. Amy joined me in LA and we had dinner with Fred and Joanne Wilson and then went art shopping with Fred on Sunday. I spent a weekend in Dallas with my parents and went to Dairy Queen for Blizzard’s three times with my dad (my mom tagged along and even had a Blizzard one night.) I had dinner with my Uncle Charlie, Aunt Cindy, Cousin Jon, and his son Jack. You get the picture – even though the travel was intense I got some time with humans I love and don’t get to smell as often as I’d like to.

At the end of the trip, I spent two days at the Upfront Summit in LA. This comes on the heals of Upfront managing director Mark Suster’s great post titled Embracing Your Community as a Strategy which I encourage you to read as it is magnificent.

I have a long relationship with LA. In my first company (Feld Technologies) my first large client was in LA (Bellflower Dental Group). While the company – a large 100 person dental practice – was based in Bellflower, the dentist that owned it lived in Mandeville Canyon and I usually stayed at his house when I was in LA (he was the step-father of a fraternity brother, which is how we got connected in the first place.) I drove a lot in LA and learned things like how the 10 connects to the 5 to the 605, or the 405 to the 605. I learned that if you left at the right time, each route was only 30 minutes, but if you left at the wrong time, it was over two hours. I heard about Wolfgang Puck before he was in airports everywhere. I enjoyed the non-meat dishes at Hamburger Heaven, went to The Palm when there was only one location, and hung out in Santa Monica before it was techie cool and the only thing around was Peter Norton.

Today, our current investments in LA include OblongNix Hydra, and recently Two Bit Circus. In the last five years, there has been an explosion of startup activity in LA that continues to be exciting as the startup community grows and evolves. Mark and his gang at Upfront Ventures are in the middle of it and are having a huge positive impact on things.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve attended and hosted many VC annual meetings. I’m an investor in many early stage VC funds and, while I’m not a rigorous annual meeting attender, will go if one of the GPs asks me to. I always offer to be part of the content of whatever meeting / summit / dinner they do if it’s useful to them.

Since I was already in LA on Monday, I told Mark I’d stick around for the Summit if he thought it’d be useful to him and the team. He immediately programmed me into the content for Wednesday (LP/GP day) and Thursday (entrepreneur day). Mark also invited me to the Upfront annual meeting given (a) our Next strategy and (b) my new partner Lindel Eakman being a prior investor in Upfront when he was at UTIMCO.

The annual meeting was solid and consistent with high quality annual meetings. But the Summit on the follow two days was easily the best VC-driven summit that I’ve ever attended. The content was incredibly high quality, diverse, and stimulating. There was plenty of networking time organized around the content. The venues were awesome. The coordination and organization was first class. The attendee list was dynamite. My understanding is that Mark / Upfront are going to post the content online and I’d encourage you to watch many of the videos when this happens.

It being LA, the special bonus things I got to do, like the one pictured below, was about as good as it gets. Yes, Kevin Spacey is extremely smart, interesting, and extremely articulate – as I expected, but there’s nothing like getting to spend a few minutes with someone you admire (he’s always been one of my favorite actors), but have never met.

Kevin Spacey with Fanboys

Mark, Greg, Stuart, and gang – thank you for including me in this. You are doing amazing things in the LA startup community.

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Jul 10 2015

The Foundry Group Detroit House

In an effort to buy real estate in burgeoning startup communities around the United States while more deeply engaging in the startup community, my partners and I have bought a house in the Cass Corridor neighborhood in Detroit. Jason Mendelson grew up in Detroit so this is a nice homecoming for him.

If you’ve followed my efforts with my Kansas City Fiber House, you’ll know where we are going with this. This time the four of us bought the house together (personally, not with our fund) and are providing it to Techstars teams in the Techstars Mobility program which is based in Detroit.

The house is a four bedroom Victoria house built in the 1920s on a cute cobblestone street near midtown. It’s around the corner from the Shinola store and several new brew pubs. It’s within walking distance of a Whole Foods.

We are converting the basement into a big work space so it’s a comfortable live/work house. Turnstone is once again helping out with the furniture. Jason is threatening to create a basement bedroom for us (Foundry partners) to stay at when we come to Detroit. Since I stay in my guest bedroom at the Kansas City house when I’m there, I’m a fan of this.

Ted Serbinski and the team at Techstars in Detroit has been amazingly helpful on all fronts with this, just like Lesa Mitchell, Ben Barreth, and the KCSV folks have been in Kansas City.

Now that we have two houses, I wonder where the third one will be.

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Jun 16 2015

Techstars and UP Global Join Forces to Support the Entrepreneurial Journey

Today Techstars announced that it has acquired UP Global, including the organization’s Startup Weekend, Startup Week, Startup Next, and Startup Digest programs.

This is great news for entrepreneurs everywhere.

Both organizations have a deep seated community-centric ethos that aims to accelerate the pace of innovation through community-focused, entrepreneurial-led business creation. UP is now in 600 cities, 120 countries and six continents. Techstars now has over 18 programs worldwide and counting.

Together, Techstars and UP Global create a powerful union which will strengthen the global entrepreneurial ecosystem and bring even more support to the entrepreneur’s journey. The two organizations are stronger together because of the efficiencies gained from meeting in the middle of this journey: UP Global focuses on grassroots, community-led inspiration and getting founders started on their path, while Techstars helps to make that dream a reality by helping founders establish solid, sustainable and successful companies.

I’ve been involved in both organizations since the beginning – as one of the founders of Techstars and as a board member for UP Global. Both organizations started on the entrepreneurial journey together and share a similar vision of entrepreneurship. The first Startup Weekend took place in Boulder in June 2007 and I’ve been on the UP Global board since it was formed by the merger of Startup Weekend and the Startup America Partnership. Many of the ideas in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City have been informed by my experiences with these organizations and they have incorporated many of the ideas from the book into what they do.

When David Cohen, David Brown, Jared Polis, and I founded Techstars back in 2007, our vision was to make entrepreneurship accessible to everyone. By bringing UP into the Techstars family, this helps to bring this vision even closer to reality.

Together, UP and Techstars have built programs and resources for every stage of the entrepreneurial journey – from community catalysts who are focused on early stage grassroots community development to entrepreneurs looking for more formal opportunities that provide education, experience, acceleration, and funding.

The merger of these two great organizations is a logical next step in the expansion of vibrant startup communities around the world. I’m a huge believer in consolidating efforts between complementary organizations. This one was a natural one and I’m excited about what’s coming UP!

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Dec 28 2014

The Endless Struggle That Boulder Has With Itself

I’ve now lived in Boulder for 19 years. It was an amazing place when I moved here and has evolved into an even more stupendous place over the past 19 years, notwithstanding the irrational and self-limiting struggle that the Boulder City Council seems to have with change.

Over the past decade, the Boulder Startup Community has had significant success and impact on the culture and dynamics of the city. I wrote about some of the history and impact in my book Startup Communities and the Boulder Thesis that I came up with has now been used as a template for creating startup communities all over the world.

Since being inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in the startup community” is the third principle of the Boulder Thesis, I get sad when I see phrases like the following in articles in the NY Times about Boulder such as:

“The locals say they don’t like the tech folks pouring into town to work at places like Google. They’re insular. They’re driving up housing prices. And they fear those newcomers are more like invaders than people trying to fit into their new community.”

Earlier this year, Macon Cowles, a member of our city council asserted that Boulder’s startup economy brought a lot of very highly paid white men to the city, and they were pricing out families and others. He then followed up with the statement “I don’t think that’s what people want.” If you know the Boulder Startup Community, you know that it’s actually bringing diversity to what is historically a very ethnically white town. A group of Boulder Startup Community leaders, including Nicole Glaros, Rajat Bhargava, and my partner Jason Mendelson wrote an OpEd titled A necessary education on Boulder’s startup community where they challenged Macon Cowles’ perspective.

“We are women and men. We are parents. We are veterans of the military. We are ultra marathoners. We are musicians and artists. We are foodies. We are sportspeople and environmentalists. We are philanthropists. We are educators. We are graduating students with entry-level jobs gaining valuable experience. We are techie nerds. We are clean energy inventors. We are natural food creators. We are of all races and ethnicities. We are young. We are old. We are straight. We are LBGTQ. We come from every religious background. We are the cross-section of our entire community. We are risk takers who have decided to create our own jobs and jobs for others.”

Cowles eventually apologized but couldn’t help but include a link to an article about Google’s diversity record in his tweet.

I fear Cowles doesn’t realize that the National Center for Women & Information Technology, led by long time Boulderite Lucy Sanders, is on the front edge of the tech / diversity issue. I’ve been immersed in the gender side of the diversity issue as chair of NCWIT since 2006 and Google is a strong, positive participant in this. Ethnic diversity in tech, especially in the US, is a big struggle, but it’s a big struggle in Boulder as well, since the population here is over 90% white.

Boulder ethnicity per US Census

I wish the NY Times article titled A Google Gentrification Fight That Doesn’t Involve San Francisco had a broader, and more than one-sided perspective. It stood out in stark contrast to several other articles I read this morning, including From startup to $7 billion, Zayo encourages ideas, entrepreneurs and Nancy Phillips followed her passion to go ViaWest. These Denver Post articles do a great job of highlighting the positive impact Dan Caruso and his team at Zayo and Nancy Phillips and her team at Viawest have had on the Boulder (and Denver) Startup Communities. And, as a bonus, Nancy has been an incredible leader and advocate for NCWIT.

At this point, the Boulder Startup Community is deeply woven into the fabric of Boulder. There is an incredible positive feedback loop between everything going on here. For those who have so quickly forgotten the global financial crisis of 2008 – 2010, one of the main reasons Boulder was so minimally impacted was the strength of the startup community – not just for employment, but for discretionary spending as well.

But ultimately this isn’t really about economics. Or innovation. Or ethnicity. Or gender.

It’s about change. And evolution. The Boulder of 2015 is not the Boulder of 1970. It’s also not the Boulder of 1995. It’s the Boulder of 2015. And we need to keep being inclusive and working together to keep it great, and make it better.

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Aug 21 2013

Where Will Techstars Fit Into The Narrative of the Boulder Entrepreneurship History?

I was having a conversion on Friday with Brad Bernthal, an Associate Professor at Colorado Law School who directs the Silicon Flatirons Center’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. Brad and I – in addition to sharing a first name – are close friends. We were talking about the recent amazing Techstars Demo Day that we had just had in Boulder, and Brad – in a professorial tone – started hypothesizing about the importance of Techstars in the Boulder startup community. We went back and forth a little and I encouraged him to put it in writing so I could use it as fodder for a blog post. He did me one better, and wrote a guest post. It follows.

It is time to consider the following question:   When we look back, where will Techstars fit into the narrative of Boulder entrepreneurship history? 

This question will not keep many of the entrepreneurs in Boulder up late at night. Looking forward – not back – is the Boulder startup community’s natural disposition.  But sometimes we need to understand where things fit in and what they mean in the bigger scheme.  During Techstars 2013 Boulder Demo Day, led by Managing Director Luke Beatty – who skillfully took the baton from Nicole Glaros –  it occurred to me that reflection is now warranted.

Full disclosure:  I am a Techstars mentor as well as a CU Associate Professor of Law, which makes me a weirdly situated participant/observer, and I’m admittedly rooting for Boulder.  I am also not a historian and, from time to time, my prognostication skills  are suspect.  (Indeed I five years ago predicted the return of short shorts – 1980s style – in the NBA.  No players appear to have received that memo.)  With that, here some thoughts on how Techstars will be viewed in Boulder startup history.

Is it time to think about Techstars as historically significant in Colorado?  Yes, it is.  Techstars was one of the pioneers of the mentor-driven, time limited, entrepreneurial supercollider known as the Accelerator.  Techstars now belongs in the company of other Front Range pioneers who helped craft an industry, a list which includes natural foods leaders folks – who built companies such as Celestial Seasonings, Wild Oats, and Alfalfa’s – and early movers in the disk storage industry, most notably StorageTek and its progeny.   The first Techstars class matriculated in 2007.  Six years later,  TechStars is a global operation and, more fundamentally, the accelerator model is among the decade’s most important entrepreneurial innovations.  Irrespective of what happens to Techstars ahead, development of the accelerator as a global industry ensures that Techstars will remain historically relevant.

How important is Techstars’ economic impact? TBD, but traditional metrics won’t capture its benefits.  It is premature to say where Techstars will rank, in terms of regional economic impact, on a historic scale in Colorado’s Front Range.  Techstars is a magnet for creative class talent.  But it is not itself a huge employer relative to other area homegrown companies like Level 3 or StorageTek, or even rising companies like Zayo, Rally, LogRhythm, and SendGrid.  Techstars’ geographically dispersed structure shares the wealth across multiple startup communities spanning Seattle to London.  As a result, as Techstars scales up, its direct local economic benefits– unlike a Microsoft in Seattle, Google in Mountain View, or Dell in Austin – are realized in several locations, not primarily one.

My bet is that the geographically networked aspect of Techstars will emerge as its long term gift to Boulder.   Traditional metrics of employees and annual revenues won’t capture Techstars’ most important impacts.  In reputational benefits to Colorado, the near term impact is already outsized.  Long term, as Anno Saxenian explains, the value of  cross-regional connections – whereby one location is closely tied by personal relationships to other geographic startup locations – is a crucial advantage for 21st Century innovation hubs.  Boulder is comparatively not well situated to have large scale immigration ties a la Silicon Valley or New York.  But Techstars generates tremendous cross-regional connectivity for Boulder to other startups communities.  My prediction is that cultivation of cross-regional networks will be Techstars’ biggest economic impact.

What will TechStars mean?   Intergenerational connections in entrepreneurship.  Techstars as a movie script pitch:  company attract wicked smart next generation talent and pairs them with their elders.  Mr. Miyage / Daniel with mouse clicks.  Sparks ensue. Like many successes, this formula seems obvious in the rear view mirror.  But building trusted networks is hard work that takes a deft touch.  And the intergenerational network at the heart of Techstars sets a community norm that those who have success should pay it forward to the next generation.  This resonates as Techstars’ long term significance.

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Jun 19 2012

Big Boulder Brings Social Data to Boulder

This week I’ll be kicking off the second day of Big Boulder with a talk about how the Boulder startup community has come to be what it is today. Big Boulder is a conference on social data held by our portfolio company Gnip.

Last year Chris Moody wrote a blog post about how companies should pursue thought leadership. To me, Big Boulder is the embodiment of this. Gnip believes that social data will change the world. To that end, they’ve brought together some of the biggest players from social media publishers including Facebook, Twitter, Klout, LinkedIn, StockTwits, Disqus, Tumblr and WordPress. They’ve put together a killer agenda talking about the many uses of social data and how publishers are thinking about it and what is enabling people to do.

Part of Boulder’s ability to grow as a startup community is our ability to bring high-level events to Boulder. To that end, Foundry Group has worked hard to bring and keep Defrag and Glue in Boulder. We’re excited to have Big Boulder as another high-profile event attracting people to our city. This affords more people to see everything Boulder has to offer a startup community and for our community to interact with attendees. I know that some Big Boulder speakers like Daniel Ha of Disqus are also sticking around to speak to the TechStars teams.

If you’ll be at the conference, please come and say hi.

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Apr 14 2012

The Tragedy Of Calling Things Silicon Blah

I was in LA for the past three days hanging out at Oblong, meeting with a bunch of entrepreneurs I know, then spending time at MuckerLabs, giving a talk at SCVStartup, and finishing up my trip with a half day at LaunchPad LA followed by a dinner that LaunchPad LA and Mark Suster put on. Even though I still felt fried from my 50 mile run, I had a great time and I’m sure I fed off of the energy of all the people I spent time with.

At the dinner I gave a short talk on Startup Communities and then answered some questions. The first question was “what do I think of the phrase ‘Silicon Beach’ for the LA startup community.” I responded that I thought it was stupid. I hate Silicon Whatever. LA should be LA. When I was in downtown LA at Oblong I didn’t notice a beach. Before I could go on a rant about why you should not call things “Silicon Blah” I got a round of applause.

In the late 90’s a wave of “Silicon Blah” appeared. Silicon Alley, Silicon Mountain, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Slopes, Silicon Gulch, Silicon Bayou, and on, and on, and on. The rallying cry was “we are going to be the next Silicon Valley.” Whatever. At the time, my opinion as someone who disliked generic marketing was that this was the worst branding ever. I feel even more strongly about this today.

If you are going to create a startup community, build your own identity. People now talk about “New York” and “Boulder” as amazing startup communities. They don’t talk about Silicon Alley and Silicon Flatirons. Well – I suppose some do, but I don’t hear it anymore (or at least my brain doesn’t process it) – I just hear New York and Boulder. And when someone says “Do you like living in Denver?”, I say “I live and work in Boulder.” Sure – Denver has a startup community also, but it’s distinct from Boulder.

Even within a city like LA there are startup neighborhoods. I made this point when I spent a month in Cambridge, MA in January. Sure, you’ve got Cambridge, Boston, Waltham, and Hopkinton. But you’ve also got Kendall Square, Central Square, the Leather District, and the Innovation District. In New York you’ve got Union Square, and Brooklyn’s DUMBO. These are the “neighborhoods” – high density areas of entrepreneurs and their startups. And, in a small town like Boulder, you’ve got – well – Boulder.

LA is huge. The startup community in LA isn’t “Silicon Beach.” It’s downtown, Santa Monica, and I’m sure a few other neighborhoods that I don’t know the name of. Brand the neighborhoods locally so the entrepreneurs know where to go, since you want them clustered together. Then brand your city (LA) which should be an easy one. And dump the Silicon Blah.

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