Brad's Books and Organizations

Books

Books

Organizations

Organizations

Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

« swipe left for tags/categories

swipe right to go back »

Colorado Institute of Technology Folds

Comments (8)

Roger Fillion has a very instructive article in this week’s Rocky Mountain News about the closing of the Colorado Institute of Technology.  I remember when CIT was launched in 1999 with great fanfare by Colorado Governor Bill Owens with the vision of creating “the next Caltech or MIT.”  I remember feeling that while the vision was huge – it was nonsensical and not particularly well informed about what created the underlying and sustainable basis for something like Caltech or MIT.

Roger’s sidebar on “Looking back at CIT” has a very focused set of quotes that puts it all in historical context.

  • Lewis O. Wilks, president of Internet and multimedia markets for Qwest Communications, on Sept. 30, 1999, as Gov. Bill Owens launches his new Science and Technology Commission: “There is an absolutely consistent awareness across the world today that Denver is becoming the next Silicon Valley.”
  • Gov. Bill Owens, in a telephone interview from Seattle after meeting with Microsoft founder Bill Gates on Dec. 14, 1999. Owens touted his vision for the Colorado Institute of Technology during the meeting: “I walked him through a sales pitch so that when he or his company starts to look for a new campus or research facility, they’ll consider Colorado.”
  • John Hansen, then-CIT president, on Aug. 9, 2001, discussing a lack of funding for the institute as the high-tech bubble burst: “If your stock is down 80 percent, you’re not inclined to spend on this right now . . . it’s hard to go in and raise funds from a company that just laid off 500 people.”
  • Margaret Cozzens, during her time as CEO at CIT, discussing lack of funding: “Collecting on the pledges (from companies) was nothing short of impossible.”

Now, Colorado has always had a vibrant technology and entrepreneurial community, but the idea that in 1999 that there was “absolutely consistent awareness across the world today that Denver is becoming the next Silicon Valley” made no sense to me at the time, nor does it in hindsight.  Having spent a lot of time and been involved in creating a lot of companies in both places, Denver has never been on the path of becoming the next Silicon Valley (in fact, Boulder is probably a more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem than Denver – so at the minimum it should be Boulder / Denver, although there’s still no real similarity to Silicon Valley.)

Rather than try to be “the next Silicon Valley” or “the next MIT”, it seems a lot more sensible for Colorado to focus on its unique characteristics, embrace its differences, and take advantage of that dynamic.  Having been in a few meetings of a group of technology executives and entrepreneurs discussing Colorado and technology for Bill Ritter’s gubernatorial campaign, I’ve seen the same thinking come up – “how can we be more like Silicon Valley.”  I’ve been consistent in my strong opinion that that is simply the wrong goal.

Education is at the core of creating a great, long term, entrepreneurial environment.  While a few people in Colorado – such as Jared Polis – are doing great things, our state government and business leaders should look at the failure of CIT as a major wake up call that we are simply not doing “enough”, or “the right things”, or “managing them effectively.”  I wasn’t involved in CIT – so it’s hard to be specifically critical – as I’ve spent most of my Colorado-based entrepreneurial / education activity working with CU Boulder Deming Center for Entrepreneurship and the CU Denver Bard Center for Entrepreneurship, but I’d hypothesize that if the companies that invested energy and money into CIT had channeled the same energy and money into these two institutions, there would have been a better outcome.

Industry needs to make a fundamental, long term investment in education in Colorado, as does the state and local government, rather than try to create “the next great thing” in times of abundance (such as in 1999.)  We need to take a 25 – 50 year view – this is not a short term game.  Unfortunately many of the people and companies that were involved in CIT appear to have had a short term time horizon and when things stumbled weren’t able or willing to invest for the long term.

  • http://www.askderekscruggs.com Derek Scruggs

    I absolutely agree that trying to become Silicon Valley is a waste of time. #1 it won’t work – you don’t just conjure that up. #2, who wants Highway 36 to turn into Highway 101?

    I don’t know what specific things to do, but I suspect encouraging diversity is key. Last year I joined the Naturally Boulder Task Force, which has almost no overlap with the tech community. It was eye-opening to learn about this vibrant, passionate community in our midst. (Or maybe it’s we, the newcomer tech companies, that are in *their* midst.)

  • sigma

    Here is a radical idea: A CIT and an entrepreneurial community
    as successful as Silicon Valley should be fairly easy to
    construct, if that is the goal. By “easy”, the effort should
    be less than is spent on any of, say, the 20 largest US state
    universities.

    The core reasons:

    (1) In leading US universities, law and medicine connect well
    with practice, but engineering mostly does not. Good medical
    schools show that it really is possible to have high quality
    in research and education with close connections with
    practice.

    (2) University engineering education is very much stuck in
    some old patterns quite separate from a successful
    entrepreneurial community. E.g., the main purpose of MIT has
    been US national security, not financial results in business;
    connections between MIT and Winter Street are weak. The
    contribution of Stanford, Berkeley, and UC Davis to Silicon
    Valley is quite indirect. A desire and an effort to have a
    more direct connection could do wonders for entrepreneurship.

    (3) The Silicon Valley entrepreneurship community nearly
    uniformly laughs at research in engineering and refuses to
    attempt to exploit it. The exploitation of engineering
    research by the US military is the best in the world; by
    analogy, the engineering in Silicon Valley entrepreneurship is
    mostly that of a third world country military.

    There are powerful valuable unexploited results on the shelves
    of the engineering research libraries, and but connections
    with practice are weak. Doing better, mostly just given the
    goal of doing better, should be no more than routine in its
    difficulty and should be spectacular in its financial results.

    The US military has gotten what it wanted from engineering
    research mostly because there are several additional layers of
    organizations between the research universities and actual
    battlefield applications. These layers are enormously costly
    an inefficient, but such is war. US business does not have
    such layers and mostly has not been able to bridge from
    research to practice.

    If medicine were run like engineering, no one would go to a
    hospital no matter how bad the pain. E.g., the halls of
    teaching hospitals are crowded with nonacademic customers with
    real problems looking for real solutions, but the halls of
    engineering graduate schools have nearly no nonacademic
    customers at all. Commonly engineering school faculty members
    just laugh at any concept of business applications; in
    simplest terms, such applications do not count for promotion
    and tenure and are regarded as neglect of an academic career.
    Having engineering borrow from medicine could do wonders for
    engineering and its connections with entrepreneurship. The
    university endowment fund managers have adopted the view that
    engineering research has no value in business and that some
    new research results and a dime will just cover a ten cent cup
    of coffee; a lemonade stand with earnings is a better
    investment than an engineering Ph.D. with a prototype.

    For engineering in a research university to contribute
    effectively to entrepreneurship, high quality new engineering
    results are essential, but so are solid connections with
    practice.

    The opportunity, then, would be for engineering research to
    take entrepreneurship seriously and for entrepreneurship to
    take engineering research seriously. These are not difficult
    concepts, are less difficult than the martingale convergence
    theorem, Banach space, P = NP, the implicit function theorem,
    the chain rule, freshman calculus, high school plane geometry,
    heap sort, two phase commit, AVL trees, LALR parsing, or high
    school algebra. The US cannot be confident that, in
    engineering, all the rest of the world will seek to emulate
    just MIT or Stanford and fail to see the opportunity for high
    quality engineering research and education well connected with
    valuable applications and successful entrepreneurship.

  • http://devinreams.com/ Devin

    I think the government could start by putting some funding back into CU. Speaking to the Leeds’ school dean its very frustrating to run a university where you a) receive very little money from the state but b) have to play entirely by the state’s rules. It’ll always be a resource problem… which will always be a political problem… which will always be a problem.

  • http://www.psynixis.com/blog Simon Brocklehurst

    Absolutely. The path to creating success like this is a well-proven one. It is indeed necessary to take a long-term view. Having said that, the proven path is one that gives short-term successes. It works like this:

    Step 1)

    The University hires a new administrator – probably into the top job. This will be someone with a world-class track record in bringing in large quantities of money. The right person can start to succeed here quickly – the first tranch of new money is available in about one year.

    Step 2)

    With money in place, the University begins to hire top Professors (including a few Nobel laureates) from all over the world (Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge etc.) – the lure for these guys being the fantastic new funding they are offered for their research. The plan is simple – to make the academic superstars offers they can’t refuse.

    Step 3)

    The injection of new world-class talent into the area, creates a new culture. The new Professors bring significant proportions of their research groups with them when they move. Over three to five years, the University starts to become a super-attractive place for super-star Assistant Profs, Post-Docs and PhD students to go to.

    Step 4)

    A proportion of the people emerging from these world-leading research groups will be entrepreneurs. They will have grown attached to the geographic location where they lived while in their academic careers, and their network will also be based around the University. Start-ups will begin to spring-up, and forward-looking VCs will engage with the Universities to help create new entrepreneurs.

    Step 5)

    Ten years out, the entrepreneurial culture is thriving. There have been successful exits from the first rounds of start-ups, and many millionaires have been created.

    Step 6)

    Twenty years out, a few of the companies have broken out of the box: after successful IPOs, they they have continued to thrive and become leaders in their areas. Making large profits they invest back into the University to ensure the talent pool available them continues to grow and be renewed.

  • http://www.ajira.com Nari Kannan

    The ironic thing in all this is that Denver wanted to become the next Silicon Valley while Silicon Valley itself is struggling with resurrecting itself for the next “big” thing.

    I used to live in the Boston area, then in Colorado Springs for a long time and now in Silicon Valley. While there are breakthroughs waiting to happen in real tough areas like better Natural Language understanding, better speech recognition, video content search, better user interfaces in small form factors, money is being pissed away on social networking sites for second cousins and yet another site for kids to put up their silly pictures and gossip about who really really really likes whom!

    You don’t want to be Silicon Valley, especially when it is at the edge of high real estate prices coming down like a ton of bricks, companies getting started here with employees in India and an education system that has lost its way!

    Unless a really huge next big thing like the Internet happens, Silicon Valley will be the stuff of memories!

  • http://www.condomman.com/articles/condom-use/advantages-of-buying-condoms-online/ Cheap Condoms

    The US military has gotten what it wanted from engineering
    research mostly because there are several additional layers of
    organizations between the research universities and actual
    battlefield applications. These layers are enormously costly
    an inefficient, but such is war. US business does not have
    such layers and mostly has not been able to bridge from
    research to practice.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cheap_Condoms Cheap_Condoms

    A proportion of the people emerging from these world-leading research groups will be entrepreneurs. They will have grown attached to the geographic location where they lived while in their academic careers, and their network will also be based around the University. Start-ups will begin to spring-up, and forward-looking VCs will engage with the Universities to help create new entrepreneurs.

  • Pingback: hier anklicken

Build something great with me