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Last week Startup Colorado hosted the Startup America Regional Summit which was a gathering of the leadership of over 25 different Startup State efforts under the structure of the Startup America Partnership. Over 100 people came and we had an awesome two days of discussions which was summarized wonderfully by Christian Renaud (CEO of Present.io and a principal of StartupCity Des Moines) in his post What I learned in Boulder.
After the event, David Mangum, the executive director for Startup Colorado and I were discussing what we had accomplished since launching in November 2011 and I asked him to write up a guest post to summarize. Following are his thoughts. Comments welcome – and if you want to get involved, just email me.
Startup Colorado publicly launched in November 2011, but we began the behind-the-scenes strategy and planning in August, which means that we’ve been going for nearly a year. As Startup Colorado’s Executive Director, I look back on our inaugural efforts with a few observations about what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what we hope to improve as we move into our second year.
We launched Startup Colorado as a movement to spur new company creation across the state, with first year emphasis on Colorado’s Front Range. Our mission has been to increase the breadth and depth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem by multiplying connections among entrepreneurs and mentors, improving access to entrepreneurial education, and building a more vibrant entrepreneurial community.
Four key principles have animated our efforts: (1) for our initiatives to be successful, they require entrepreneurs to lead; (2) we must think and act with a long-term view; (3) we seek to engage entrepreneurs at all levels of experience and success; and (4) the influx of talent is a cornerstone of strengthening a startup ecosystem.
Startup Colorado kicked off with a handful of tractable projects:
- Create an entrepreneurial summer camp in Boulder
- Expand new tech meetups and open coffee clubs in Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs
- Support entrepreneurial education in the Front Range
- Evaluate current barriers facing entrepreneurs, including an assessment of best practices within entrepreneurial communities around the US and world
- Engage larger companies in the entrepreneurial ecosystem through commitments to help entrepreneurs
- Build the Startup Colorado website to be a user-friendly, thorough database for information and connections
Perhaps our most promising project is the “entrepreneurial summer camp,” renamed Startup Summer. Startup Summer kicked off in late May with 14 college students/2012 college grads working in paid internships for Boulder-area startups. In addition to the full-time internship, Startup Summer offers its participants a variety of evening entrepreneurship events, most important of which is a weekly class on entrepreneurial topics taught by local entrepreneurs, founders, CEOs, and community leaders. Participating interns also will be given the opportunity to work with an area mentor to develop their own business ideas. Startup Summer required a lot of program construction, promotion, applicant recruiting, and company/intern matching and it would not have happened without ample support from Tim Enwall and our top notch Program Coordinator, Eugene Wan. Perhaps more than any other project, this one embodies our core principles: we have a range of entrepreneurial leaders teaching classes and working with the interns, and we are building the program as a way to seed the next generation of Colorado entrepreneurs and strengthen the talent pipeline into the state’s startup ecosystem.
We also have made considerable progress in developing a stronger network of meetups in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Fort Collins. Jan Horsfall and Chris Franz, in conjunction with Peak Venture Group, have invigorated the Colorado Springs meetup system, going from a meetup of 15-20 people last fall to, most recently, 175 people (http://www.meetup.com/PVG-Pitch-Night/). They also are spearheading an open coffee club. In Denver, Erik Mitisek, Jon Rossi, Andrei Taraschuk, and the various meetup organizers have been pushing for greater meetup coherence and organization, including at the Denver New Tech Meetup. Jon Nordmark also has been leading an open coffee club in Denver. After several months of false starts, we also have had exciting progress in Fort Collins with Christine Hudson, who is tackling the Fort Collins New Tech Meetup.
Another exciting project in the works (and not one originally planned) is the Startup Colorado Legal Roundtable, where a handful of local law firms will give free legal advice to a select group of startup founders and CEOs. If you’re a startup entrepreneur interested in this offering, please email me at email@example.com.
Other projects have been more challenging, though we have not given up on anything.
One project that may yet take flight is the entrepreneurship education project. Over the past year we talked to many high school teachers and other education non-profits, but did not find a clear project leader to take things and run with them. Steve Halstedt and Dan Caruso recently stepped up with an interest in getting more involved at individual high schools, and we may try to support each of them with teams of MBA and JD students to help run logistics and execution. Our current view is to develop a “startup entrepreneurship” curriculum to be taught afternoons or weekends for high school students, supplement the classes with mentors, and encourage students to develop their own business ideas.
Two other projects that have been harder to get off the ground are engaging bigger companies to help startups and building the Startup Colorado website to be a central resource and connector for entrepreneurs and mentors. Our bigger company engagement project could use more assistance both in connecting to more companies and in helping to manage existing offerings from companies like ViaWest (free hosting for startups). For the website, we have a few ideas for content improvement, including a regional spotlight on what’s happening across the Front Range, entrepreneurs interviewing other entrepreneurs, and more.
Overall, the first year has gone as we expected: some projects would gain traction quickly, some would be a bit wobbly but viable, and some will require more effort. The most important feature of individual project success has been the willingness of multiple people to step up and volunteer a meaningful amount of time to help.
We expect to amplify our efforts to ensure that the next Startup Summer is even better than this year’s. We also aim to continue working to strengthen the individual meetup communities across the Front Range. Other projects may take a few more months of execution before we know their ultimate status, but we are optimistic that with a refined sense of how to work (with project leaders and better delineated ownership) and a renewed vigor for our mission, we can make Startup Colorado’s second year even more impactful than the first.
I’ve been a big supporter of the Startup America Partnership since its inception at the beginning of last year. The organization is now a year old and is starting to really have some impact. I’m psyched about the groundwork they’ve laid down and their plans for 2012.
One of the initiatives I’ve been very involved in is Startup Colorado which we launched a few months ago. I also gave my first Startup America webinar today to a bunch of entrepreneurs who are members of Startup America Partnership about fundraising. And there’s a lot more coming to entrepreneurs who are members of the Startup America Partnership.
So – sign up now. If you are a Colorado-based company, this will automatically get you into the Startup Colorado infrastructure as well at the Startup America Partnership. If you are in any other state, you’ll be part of the whole Startup America Partnership as well as your state when they launch (if they haven’t already).
My simple appeal to all entrepreneurs in Colorado – please sign up. There is no cost to you. There are tons of benefits. It helps us more efficiently connect with you and engage you in the Colorado startup community and we want to show the world how powerful the startup community is in Colorado. Plus, I’m now in a heated match for the number of startups – competing with David Cohen and the other TechStars Managing Directors (David Tisch, Katie Rae, Andy Sack, Nicole Glaros, and Jason Seats.) You wouldn’t want them to show me up, now would you.
Sign up. And help everyone in America win as we create more and more entrepreneurial companies together.
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.
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.
If you’ve been following the Startup Visa, you may know that the bills that were submitted in both the House and the Senate expired at the end of the 2010 Congress. I’ve been on a number of calls lately discussing re-introducing these bills with updates to reflect the renewed understanding of the impact on high growth entrepreneurship on jobs in our country.
A few months ago several entrepreneurs took it upon themselves to create a great short (25 minute) documentary called Starting-Up In America. It is a set of interviews with foreign entrepreneurs in the US talking about why they chose to start their company here, the struggles they’ve had getting appropriate visas, and – in several cases – the severe limitations their visa status has placed on their businesses.
It’s been very difficult to get people to talk publicly about their experiences because of fear of retribution from the USCIS. I’m super proud of everyone involved in this documentary – both for putting the effort into making it as well as being brave about talking out about the issue.
On Monday I was at the White House to help announce the Startup America Partnership. As part of this, TechStars announced the TechStars Network, an affiliation of TechStars-like programs across the country along with our commitment to the Startup America Partnership to help 5000 experienced mentors work with 6000 entrepreneurs to create 25,000 new jobs by 2015. For an awesome description of Startup America, please read Aneesh Chopra’s (the United States CTO) post on TechCrunch titled Startup America: A Campaign To Celebrate, Inspire And Accelerate Entrepreneurship. By the way, I think it is awesomely cool that the CTO of the United States blogs on TechCrunch!
Over the past eighteen months I’ve gotten to know a number of people in the executive brand of our government, especially at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Economic Council. In general, I don’t engage that much with government, but I have with issues that I care deeply about like the Startup Visa and entrepreneurship. In this case I’ve been blown away by the intelligence, thoughtfulness, tirelessness, and capability of folks in OSTP and the NEC. When I was first involved in discussions around entrepreneurship that later evolved into the Startup America Partnership, I was originally skeptical about what I was hearing. Nine months, and a bunch of discussions later, I think the White House has approached Startup America in a very smart and powerful way and I believe that everyone involved has a major clue about entrepreneurship, the importance of it to our economy and our country in general, and how to help celebrate, inspire, and accelerate entrepreneurship across America.
When I was first approached to talk about how the White House could help entrepreneurs, I focused most of my comments on trying to help the folks I talked to understand the difference between high growth entrepreneurs and small business people. They are both important to our economy, but have very different needs and until recently I didn’t feel like the White House, or other branches of government, really understood the difference between the two.
Fortunately, the White House listened to a number of smart people, including the amazing folks at the Kauffman Foundation. I worked closely with the Kauffman Foundation in the mid-to-late 1990′s both through their partnership with the Young Entrepreneurs Organization as well as being an “entrepreneur-in-residence” (a fancy word for “one day a month consultant”) where I worked with a team on better understanding high growth entrepreneurs. I continued to spend time with the Kauffman Foundation over the past decade, but lost touch with many of the people I’d worked with as the organization evolved. In the past few years, under the leadership of Carl Schramm, the Kauffman Foundation has reasserted itself as the most significant organization thinking about, researching, and advocating for entrepreneurship as part of its mission to accelerate entrepreneurship in America. I’ve gotten to see them in action first hand through work that I’ve done with Lesa Mitchell, Paul Kedrosky, and Bo Fishback and I can confidently say that Mr. K’s legacy is in great hands.
Along with Kauffman, Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, his wife Jean and the Case Foundation, has been working hard to help the White House craft a public / private partnership to shine a bright light on entrepreneurship and help accelerate it across the country. I’ve never worked closely with Steve but have always admired him from afar and love the leadership team of Steve and Carl heading up the Startup America Partnership.
As David Cohen and I talked about the idea for the TechStars Network over the past few quarters, it became obvious to us that it would be a natural part of the Startup America Partnership as we both strongly believe that mentorship is a core attribute of growing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. We both believe that TechStars like programs can existing in over 100 cities in the US, covering many different industry segments (not just software and Internet), and the value of coordinating the mentor, entrepreneur, and investor activity across the entire country is extremely powerful. We had already identified over 100 different accelerator programs in the US that were modeled after TechStars and had helped a number them get started, so as we put together the original members of the TechStars Network, we were psyched that 16 high quality accelerator programs joined us at launch.
It’s important to realize that each of the TechStars Network member programs will be locally owned and operated. We strongly believe in the power of a network model in the construct of expanding entrepreneurship, not a hierarchical centrally owned and controlled one. We think entrepreneurship across the US is not a zero-sum game and we want to play our part in expanding it. TechStars will still run programs that it owns and operates in Boulder, New York, Boston, and Seattle, but we’ll continue to aggressively expand the overall network across the US as well as the world.
I’m extremely excited to play my small part in the Startup America Partnership. For those of you out there questioning how government and entrepreneurs intersect, I encourage you to give the Startup America Partnership a chance. Start by looking at the 27 private organization commitments to the partnership. And, if you want to engage in any way, just email me and I’ll try to figure out how to get you plugged in.