In the Startup Communities, I talk extensively about leaders and feeders. I assert than anyone in the startup community should be able to start / create / do anything that is helpful to the startup community. They don’t have to ask permission – there is no VP Activities in a startup community. I also talk about how the students are the precious and most valuable resource of a university.
This morning I got the following email from Fletcher Richman, a student at CU. It’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about and it is immediately actionable for every entrepreneur in Boulder and Denver.
Dear Founders and Friends,
As students at CU Boulder, we have noticed that there are many startups that would love hire more interns and full time employees from the university, and lots of students would love to work at a startup. However, there seems to be a disconnect between the two.
We would like to fix this issue. We have created a simple form to get a better idea of the positions available for students at startups that we would greatly appreciate if you could fill out:
The data from this form will be used for two things:
1) To help start an online startup jobs and internships board for students that we are currently building.
2) To build a contact list of companies for the Students2Startups fair early next year, which will be bigger and better than ever before! Thank you so much for your help! Please let us know if you have any questions.
I’m a huge supporter of CU and CU Boulder in particular. While it’s not my alma mater, I’ve probably contributed as much or more time and money as I have to MIT, where I spent seven years. Amy and I strongly support three institutions of higher education – MIT, Wellesley (where she went to school), and CU Boulder.
I was shocked and stunned to get an email from the CU President Bruce Benson yesterday. Here are the first few paragraphs, on the CU President letterhead.
“When Colorado voters in November passed Amendment 64, which legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use, it led to a number of questions. Most uncertainty surrounds the conflict between the new state law and federal law, under which marijuana remains illegal. Amendment 64 will be signed into law in January and take effect in January 2014.
But for the University of Colorado, the issue is clear. Marijuana threatens to cost the university nearly a billion dollars annually in federal revenue, money we can ill afford to lose.
I was personally opposed to Amendment 64 and worked on my own time to defeat it. But it passed and CU, like many entities, is working to determine the implications.
The glaring practical problem is that we stand to lose significant federal funding. CU must comply with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which compels us to ban illicit drugs from campus. Our campuses bring in more than $800 million in federal research funds, not to mention nearly an additional $100 million in funding for student financial aid. The loss of that funding would have substantial ripple effects on our students and our state. CU contributes $5.3 billion to Colorado’s economy annually, a good portion of it derived from our research.”
Now, independent of your view on the legalization of marijuana, my immediate reaction was that this doesn’t make any sense to me. Last night at dinner, I asked Amy, who is on the Wellesley College board, what she thought. We talked about it for a while and agreed that it seemed extremely inappropriate for Benson to be using his role as CU President to advocate his personal position on this, especially in the context of a threat of losing a billion dollars of federal funding. Neither of us knew the exact rules here, but it just didn’t sound right to me.
“The University of Colorado is not in jeopardy of losing a single dime of federal funding due to Amendment 64. President Benson has allowed his personal opposition to Amendment 64 to compromise his responsibility to the university by spreading an alarmist claim that has no basis in fact.
“The legality of marijuana in Colorado tomorrow will not impact CU any more than the legality of alcohol does today. The federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act requires universities to adopt and implement drug prevention programs to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs or alcohol by students and employees on school premises or as part of any of its activities. The University’s alcohol and drug policy bans the use of alcohol and marijuana on campus and satisfies the federal requirement.
“I will not stand by and allow the reputation of the University of Colorado to be sullied by the non-existent threat of losing one billion dollars. As the federal representative the University of Colorado at Boulder, I want to reassure parents, students, and faculty that CU is not in danger of losing any federal funding due to Amendment 64. I call upon President Benson to immediately retract his message and clarify that the University is not in danger of losing any federal funds due to the passage of Amendment 64.”
I respect Benson’s personal position, but I’m offended that he’d use his position the way he just did. Jared is right – Benson owes the members of the CU community a retraction.
If you are interested in coming, please register here. It’s free, but we do have a limited number of seats. I love doing the Entrepreneurs Unplugged sessions – it’s a chance for me to interview some of the great Boulder entrepreneurs, especially up and coming ones like Rusty and Holly. I’ve known Holly since her time as VP of Marketing at Service Metrics, a company in which I was an investor in the late 1990′s and was a huge Boulder success story when they were acquired in 1999 by Exodus for $280 million. I met Rusty more recently, a few years ago when he was just starting BlogFrog. While I’m not an investor, I introduced him to a few friends of mine including David Cohen of TechStars who helped him put together his angel round.
Since Rusty and Holly started BlogFrog, they’ve create a rapidly growing company that is another Boulder success story. They raised a $3.2 million round in the spring and have gained national visibility in the past year for creating a great new approach to influence marketing.
Rusty, Holly, and BlogFrog have a great story. Come hang out with me Monday at CU Boulder and hear it.
Yesterday, President Obama was in Boulder. The guys at Orbotix showed up and got him to play around with a Sphero. Watch the video (it’s pretty awesome) and then I’ll tell you the story of how they made it happen. The short answer – always be ready to demo your product – you never know when the President (or a key customer) is nearby.
Our main characters for this story are Ross Ingram and Damon Arniotes. Ross is the one demoing Sphero to the President. Ross is Mr. Everywhere for Orbotix – his job is to handle every hack event, be at every party, and show up everywhere that might be interesting with a bunch of Spheros. Damion is the guy filming everything on his iPhone. His full time job is to video Sphero in the wild and tell the story all the time.
On Monday night after Ross and Damon found out the President would be at CU Boulder they starting talking about how awesome it would be to get a Sphero into Obama’s hands. No one knew Obama’s route around CU and Boulder, but Ross and Damon drove around the Campus and the Hill (next to CU) to scope things out. I’m betting at least one beer was consumed.
On Tuesday, they drove to CU with Spheros in hand but still didn’t know where Obama was going to be. They had to leave Damon’s camera gear behind because of security and the fact that Damon isn’t press (apparently only press is allowed cameras).
While they were driving to campus they saw a bunch of yellow police tape and took a guess that this was a spot that might see some action. If you are a fly fisherman, you know this drill. Go where you think the fish are going to be and wait. They found a parking spot near the Sink (one of the venerable old college hangouts on the Hill) and parked.
Ross called Paul Berberian, Orbotix’s CEO around 6pm and asked Paul if they should drive Sphero past the yellow tape towards Obama. Paul, who went to the Air Force Academy, responded with “No fucking way – you’ll end up in jail – remote control ball rolling to the president – bad idea.”
Around 6:45 Secret Service starts cherry picking folks from the crowd to be in the receiving line for the President. Magically Ross and Damon get picked – they get screened with metal detectors and are allowed in with Sphero. A girl with a Slurpie had to throw it away – apparently Slurpies are more dangerous than robotic balls. I bet she had one of those neon blue ones.
The President rolls up minutes later and starts shaking hands. Damon starts filming on his iPhone. Ross greets the President and asks him to see his iPhone to drive the robot ball. The President immediately gets it; Ross asks him if he wants to drive it - and the rest is what you saw on the video. While this is happening, the Secret Service rushed in around Ross and Damon as soon as the President engaged, but the President kept going with Sphero so they hung back.
Someone in the crowd took the Sphero while Ross and Damon frantically played back to video to see if they got it. They did and the rest is memorialized for history – this is the first time we are aware of that a President of the United States has played with a robotic ball controlled with an iPhone.
There are two big lessons here. First, always be ready. Second, hire amazing guys like Ross and Damon and let the loose on the world. Guys – incredible!
I love talking to, meeting with, and teaching college students. A few weeks ago I sat down to do a 30 minute interview with a young woman from CU Boulder who is an engineering student. She did a great job of capturing my essence, and that of Foundry Group, in our interview. I particularly loved her conclusion, which I asked if I could repost (she said yes). It follows – I hope it’s as inspiring to you (about the next generation) as it was to me.
For Any Young Entrepreneur: My interview with Brad Feld was encouraging to me as an engineer with a passion for innovation. Brad described how he is intrigued by the array of problems that he is faced with everyday. This is especially relatable to me because I fear spending the rest of my life bored by monotony when there are so many problems to be solved. It was enlightening to hear Brad discuss how to conduct a business. I expected to hear trade secrets or how to be the next great thinker, but it really came down to focus, determination, clarity, and inspiration. Feld is another who really believes that the way to survive, as an entrepreneur, is to be open minded to new experiences instead of just being “lucky”. I appreciated seeing the business method that less is more. Yes it is the dream of many to be the most world renown business with 100% return on investment, but it can be just as rewarding to be the successful yet small venture with no need to own a market. Observing the office reminded that an entrepreneur could have a business, enjoy art, and even find time to exercise, instead of engrossing oneself in work at all times. The entrepreneurial lifestyle actually seems like a sustainable one. This opportunity has helped me realize that the life of an entrepreneur can be accomplished simply by merging the things you love with what you are good at.