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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.

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Startup Communities: Creating A Great Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City

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I’m deep into writing my latest book. For now, the title is “Startup Communities: Creating A Great Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City.” I’m open to different titles – if you’ve got ideas just put them in the comments.

Following is the current table of contents. It’s still pretty dynamic as I’m adding stuff while I’m writing. I’ve also got a bunch of guest sections coming from all over the US (I’ve got a dozen so far) so as they come in, I’m trying to fit them in (which often generates a new, or different section). If you are a leader in your entrepreneurial community and have something you want to add, email me 500 – 1000 words.

I’m looking for feedback on this table of contents. If anything jumps out at you as wrong, unclear, in the wrong place, or missing, please leave me your thoughts in the comments.

My current goal is to have a first draft ready for circulation finished by 12/31/11. I plan to have the book published and available by 2/29/12. I’m self-publishing this one so there will be no delay in getting it out. I also plan to price it low so it has the potential for broad distribution.

Comments of any sort are welcome and encouraged! The table of contents, as of today, follows.

Foreword

The Boulder Entrepreneurial Community

  • Boulder As A Laboratory
  • Before the Internet (1970 to 1994)
  • Pre Internet Bubble (1995 – 2000)
  • The Internet Bubble (2001 – 2002)
  • The Beginning of the Next Wave (2003 – 2011)

Principals of a Sustainable Entrepreneurial Community

  • Led By Entrepreneurs
  • Have A 20 Year Commitment
  • Welcome Everyone Into The Entrepreneurial Community
  • Engage The Entire Entrepreneurial Stack

Leaders vs. Feeders

  • What’s A Leader?
  • What’s A Feeder?
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Mentors
  • Government
  • University
  • Investors
  • Service Providers
  • The Importance of Both Leaders and Feeders

Keys of Leadership Culture

  • Inclusive
  • Mentor Driven
  • Non Zero Sum Game
  • Porous Boundaries

The Power of Accelerators

  • The Story of TechStars in Boulder
  • TechStars Impact on Boston
  • TechStars Impact on New York
  • How Accelerators Are Different Than Incubators
  • Why Incubators Don’t Work

Classical Problems

  • Patriarch Syndrome
  • Complaining About Capital
  • Reliance on Government
  • Short Term Commitment
  • Bias Against Newcomers
  • Feeder Control
  • Artificial Geographic Borders
  • Risk Aversion
  • Fear of Failure
  • Zero Sum Game

A Different Example of University Involvement

  • Silicon Flatirons
  • The Components of CU Boulder
  • Why They Don’t Work In Isolation
  • Why The Community Matters Most
  • The Real Value – Fresh Blood Into The System

Entrepreneurs vs. Government

  • Bottom Up vs. Top Down
  • Micro vs. Macro
  • Action vs. Policy
  • Impact vs. Control
  • Self Awareness

Boulder’s Great, But What Are It’s Weaknesses?

  • Parallel Universes
  • Integration With The Rest of Colorado
  • Lack of Diversity
  • Space

Community Power

  • Give Before You Get
  • The Power of Apprenticeship
  • Everyone Is A Mentor
  • Embrace Weirdness
  • Be Open To Any Idea
  • Be Honest

Myths About Entrepreneurial Communities

  • We Need To Be Like Silicon Valley
  • Venture Capital Matters
  • Angel Investors Must Be Organized

How To Get Started

  • Do or Do Not, There Is No Try
  • Resources

Boulder’s Entrepreneurial Weakness – Space

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I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the great things about the Boulder entrepreneurial ecosystem. Over the past five years it’s been awesome to see things really blossom. But there are always problems of some sort. And we have a few here in Boulder which – in the spirit of helping understand how entrepreneur ecosystems work over time – are worth pointing out and talking about.

The most visible problem her is that Boulder’s booming businesses are running out of room. Downtown Boulder is not large – maybe 10 blocks by 5 blocks – and very few of the buildings are more than three stories tall. Once you get outside the downtown Boulder core, you get some larger buildings and some office parks, but you are no longer in the core of downtown. If you get in your car and drive to the next towns over, such as Broomfield and Westminster, there is plenty of office space and some larger buildings.

But many companies that start in downtown Boulder want to stay in downtown Boulder. The companies build their culture around being downtown, benefit from the extremely high entrepreneurial density of Boulder, and the dynamics of being in a downtown core rather than in a suburban office park.

Ironically, the Boulder politicians have always seemed to have a bias against “business in Boulder.” I’ve heard about it for the 16 years I’ve been here and experience it periodically. The zoning here is extremely restrictive and the decisions around zoning seem arbitrary. The division between retail, tourism, business, and residential seems in continual conflict. A few real estate developers own and control much of the existing office buildings in town and as a result end up having a zero sum approach to leasing space – specifically they jack rents up as high as possible when the market is tight, only to have them collapse when the market loosens up.

As I’ve watched local Boulder companies grow to be in the 100 to 300 employee range, I’ve watched them struggle with office space. If the trajectory of several of the local companies continues, this struggle will get more severe over the next 24 months. Inevitably, several of the larger companies will have to move outside of Boulder, even though they don’t want to. When this happens, our real estate owner friends will once again have a lot of empty space on their hands which will fill up more slowly with smaller firms as they grow into what’s available.

I’m not sure if this is a solvable problem given all of the different constituents involved. The contraints on Boulder’s growth have many advantages and are part of what makes Boulder as great as it is. But it’s also a weakness – one that is front and center right now as a number of companies who look like they could be long term, self-sustaining anchors of the Boulder entrepreneurial community have to figure out where to house 300 people going on 1,000.

College Is Like A Sandbox

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I spent yesterday at University of Michigan with my partner Jason Mendelson (he’s a two time grad – economics undergrad and then law school.) This was my first trip to Ann Arbor and I had a great time. It was fun to have Jason show me his old haunts, our new friend Wes took good care of us throughout the day, and we met a ton of interesting people including a bunch of entrepreneurs.

In one of our early meetings I heard a great line from one of the members of the UM Tech Transfer Mentor-in-Residence program.

The line was “College is like a sandbox if you are an entrepreneur. Falling down doesn’t hurt much.”

This made me think of a brilliant phrase from Alex White, the CEO of Next Big Sound, in his TechStars Demo Day pitch. I can’t remember where in the presentation it was but Jason reminded me that one of Alex’s great moments was when he said something like “We don’t need to raise much money because we are cheap to keep alive.”

Throughout the day we met with a bunch of college students – law school students, undergrads, MBAs, and a few PhD’s. All of them were really lit up about entrepreneurship, were trying lots of stuff, had tons of questions, and challenged us to give them our views and feedback on what Ann Arbor needed to do to create a great entrepreneurial community.

At the end of the day we met with all the members in TechArb. This is the student accelerator – I was blown away by what they were doing. At some point I said to Jason “why doesn’t CU Boulder have a thing like this.” He had an answer that I’m still pondering, but effectively reinforced the initiative that the students and entrepreneurial leadership around the UMich were taking. During this session, I kept thinking “college is like a sandbox – it doesn’t hurt much when you fall down.”

Days like today are incredibly energizing for me. The level of enthusiasm and optimism among the people we met with was phenomenal. Their willingness and interest in learning and trying new stuff was apparent. And their understanding that plenty of things wouldn’t work, but they wouldn’t learn if they didn’t try, was front and center.

To all the folks I met with today, thanks for making my first trip to Ann Arbor really fun and interesting. And, even though I couldn’t care less about college football, good luck against Nebraska this weekend.

Startup Colorado’s Year One Initiatives

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We launched Startup Colorado last week as part of the Startup America Partnership. I’m co-chairing this effort with Phil Weiser (Dean of CU Boulder Law School) and Jan Horsfall (CEO of Gelazzi). Dave Mangum (Silicon Flatirons Research Fellow) is the Executive Director and the effort is being sponsored by Silicon Flatirons at CU Boulder.

We’ve got a bunch of great entrepreneurs from Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs involved at this point and are reaching out to entrepreneurs in Fort Collins to help us get things up and running there. We’re taking a 20 year view to this effort so rather than create some grand conceptual plans, we’ve chosen six initiatives to go after in the first year. We are building off of the incredible entrepreneurial community that has been created in Boulder and starting by exporting several of the concepts that we know work, while trying some new things in Boulder. The six initiatives are:

  1. Export the magic of the Boulder tech community to Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs by expanding New Tech Meetups, Open Coffee Clubs, and Community Office Hours to these cities.
  2. Create an Entrepreneurial Summer Camp in Boulder for talented college students from throughout Colorado. These students will be housed at CU Boulder and work as paid interns for Boulder startups.
  3. Support entrepreneurial education in the Front Range by developing a New Venture Challenge business competition for Boulder-area high schools with the goal of seeding the other Front Range cities with leaders to expand the competition throughout Colorado.
  4. Evaluate current barriers that entrepreneurs face, including an assessment of what best practices are in place at entrepreneurial communities around the US and world. We’ll start by measuring in detail what’s going on in Boulder and try to create a framework for any city.
  5. Engage larger companies in the entrepreneurial ecosystem through commitments to help entrepreneurs.
  6. Build the Startup Colorado website to be a thorough database for information and connections.

We are very aware that there are plenty of other cities in Colorado, especially on the western slope, and hope to include them in Startup Colorado in year two. We know that some of the ideas above won’t work and we intend to make mistakes, kill things off quickly, and keep iterating on new ideas. Our goal is to do stuff, rather than just talk about stuff.

If you are an entrepreneur and want to get involved in helping lead the Startup Colorado effort, email me.

Startup Colorado Launch on 11/9/11

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On November 9th, I’ll be helping launch Startup Colorado. We’ll be having a kickoff event at CU Boulder from 6:30pm – 8:35pm.

Startup Colorado will be one of the regional initiatives under the umbrella of the Startup America Partnership. Startup Colorado is an initiative to make a meaningful impact on entrepreneurship and new company creation in the Front Range. We want to expand the breadth and depth of entrepreneurial networks from Fort Collins to Boulder to Denver to Colorado Springs and lower barriers for people who want to build high-growth businesses.

At the launch event, our agenda will include talking specifically about what our plans and goals are for 2012. We’ll be operating under my first principle of entrepreneurial communities – that an entrepreneurial community must be lead by entrepreneurs. We have a panel discussing what has happened in Boulder over the past decade and one about the power of mentorship.

We’ll also be joined by several special guests, including Scott Case (Startup America Partnership CEO) and Aneesh Chopra (United States Chief Technology Officer).

If you are an entrepreneur in Colorado, we’d love to have you join us. Please register at the Silicon Flatirons site. The event will be at the Wittemyer Courtroom, Wolf Law Building, University of Colorado on Wednesday, November 9, 2011; 6:30 – 8:35 PM.

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