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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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Empirical Support for the Boulder Thesis

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Yesterday, Kauffman Foundation released a study that provided empirical support for the Boulder Thesis that I came up with in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. The study is excellent if you are interested in this topic and can be read at ad “Think Locally, Act Locally: Building a Robust Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.”

Kauffman did a study of 1 Million Cups, a program that was launched at Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City and is expanding rapidly around the US with it now in 33 communities in 21 states. Colorado has two – a 1 Million Cups in Denver and 1 Million Cups in Fort. Collins. 1 Million Cups Denver was also a recipient of one of the first Startup Colorado Community Fund grants.

The study found:

  • Entrepreneurship is a local phenomenon.
  • Entrepreneurs follow local entrepreneurs.
  • Local networks thicken over time.
  • Entrepreneurial demand is high for peer-based learning and networking.
  • Different programs reach different entrepreneurs.

In the report, Kauffman lined this up clearly against the Boulder Thesis, which, if you don’t know it, is:

  1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
  2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
  3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
  4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.

Or, if you are a video person and want to go a little deeper, take a look at the great StartupVille video Kauffman did when I released the book as part of their Sketchbook series.

I gave a 30 minute interview on this and other topics at the Atlanta Tech Village yesterday – nice summary from David Cummings. And there was a good student survey at  showing Chicago and the Midwest as an Evolving Hub for Entrepreneurship.

Built In Colorado

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A few weeks ago I did an event with Built In Denver where I interviewed Tim Miller and Ryan Martens, the founders of Rally Software, on their journey from a startup to a public company (NYSE: RALY). As part of the event – held at Mateo in Boulder – the gang from Built In Denver announced they were rebranding as Built In Colorado.

The attendance at the event was roughly 50% Boulder entrepreneurs and 50% Denver entrepreneurs.

The past two days the Colorado Innovation Network held it’s 2nd annual COIN Summit. As part of it, Governor Hickenlooper rolled out a new brand for all of Colorado, an effort led by Aaron Kennedy, the founder of Noodles & Co. The focus was on Colorado, not on Boulder, or Denver.

Powerful startup communities start at the neighborhood level. They then roll up to the city level. And then cities connect. Eventually it rolls up to the state level.

It’s a powerful bottom up phenomenon, not a top down situation. And inclusive of everyone. This is one of the key parts of my theory around Startup Communities.

When we started Startup Colorado in 2011 as part of the Startup America Partnership (now Up Global), the first of our six initiatives was:

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.

When I look at what is happening in Denver, and the connective tissue between Boulder and Denver, I’m incredibly proud of what has been accomplished in less than two years on this front.

When I see questions on Quora like Should I start my start-up in Boulder or Denver? and then read the answers, my reaction is “poorly phrased question” and “wrong answer!” It’s not an either / or – the two cities are 30 minutes apart. They are both awesome places to start a company. It depends entirely on where you want to live – do you want a big city (Denver) or a little town (Boulder). If you choose Boulder, when you reach a certain size, you’ll end up with offices in both like Rally and SendGrid.

I’m psyched that Built in Denver is rebranding to Built in Colorado. I’m going to spend most of the week for Denver Startup Week in Denver, and CEOs and execs from most of our portfolio companies are converging on Denver in the middle of the week for a full day session together.

You’ll note that we have deliberately named things like The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) with “Colorado” in their name to be inclusive of all entrepreneurs in the state. And we we do things to celebrate the startup community, like The Entrepreneur’s Prom that EFCO and Cooley are putting on September 7th at the Boulder Theatre, we focus on the entire startup community.

Entrepreneurs Prom

Innovation and entrepreneurship is off the charts right now. Let’s make sure we work together to continue building a base for the next 20 years.

Startup Colorado: Looking Back on the First Year

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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:

  1. Create an entrepreneurial summer camp in Boulder
  2. Expand new tech meetups and open coffee clubs in Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs
  3. Support entrepreneurial education in the Front Range
  4. Evaluate current barriers facing entrepreneurs, including an assessment of best practices within entrepreneurial communities around the US and world
  5. Engage larger companies in the entrepreneurial ecosystem through commitments to help entrepreneurs
  6. Build the Startup Colorado website to be a user-friendly, thorough database for information and connections

The Assessment

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 dcmangum@gmail.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.

Looking Forward

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.


Calling All Entrepreneurs – Sign Up For Startup America And Help Us Win

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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.

Startup Summer In Boulder

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If your company is interested in joining Startup Summer, please email me and I’ll get you plugged in.

Startup Summer, a new program from Startup Colorado, will bring hard working, passionate college-age entrepreneurs to Boulder to work as summer interns for startup companies. We are looking for a total of 30 Boulder-based early-stage companies to participate as we are going to try to accomodate 30 students from around Colorado in the first year.

In exchange for free housing in CU-Boulder campus dorms, Startup Summer interns will spend the summer in Boulder interning with companies, learning about the world of startups, and building entrepreneurial business skills. We will hold a “meet the applicants” Startup Summer Speed Dating Night in the spring of 2012. At Speed Dating Night, a pre-screened pool of intern applicants will attend an open networking event in which companies will meet the various applicants in rounds of short interviews. Afterwards, Startup Summer coordinators will match company preferences with applicant preferences to match interns with companies.

Throughout the summer, interns will work during the day at the company that hires them; in the evenings, they will attend various dinners, events, and workshops. At the end of the summer interns will go through a TechStars-like Pitch Night during which any company can come hear their pitch about “what I learned about starting a business” which has the subtext of “why you should hire me as your next employee.”

We are looking for the first 25 startup companies who will commit the following to the entrepreneur interns:

  1. A decent summer wage (suggest between $10-$15/hr);
  2. An intern position with a supervisor/manager who will commit to constructing a meaningful position and spending at least an hour per week supervising;
  3. At least an hour every other week, but preferably every week, with you and the other company founders talking about the entrepreneurial experience, the lessons you’ve learned and answering the questions they’ll be bringing from their evening activities;
  4. Ideally a few hours during the summer with the person accountable for fundraising to teach the experiences of fundraising; and
  5. Ideally attendance at the summer-ending Pitch Night with a few words of introduction of the intern.

In return, Startup Summer will commit to you:

  1. The selection of the most passionate young would-be entrepreneurs in Colorado
  2. Transportation to Boulder and housing
  3. Immersive intern education at night with sessions including “entrepreneurs unplugged”, “topic of the week”, “peer sharing”, “company field trip” and a variety of other evening sessions.
  4. A process whereby you have input on the selection of your intern

Startup Summer is organized and run by Tim Enwall, David Hose, and David Mangum; it is one of multiple projects being developed by Startup Colorado, an initiative to spur new company creation and entrepreneurial spirit throughout the Colorado’s Front Range. Startup Summer has hired a CU student, Eugene Wan, as a Program Coordinator to assist with logistics relevant to applicant recruitment, initial application processing (vetting applicants for Speed Dating Night), intern move-in, and intern activities during the summer. Although certain skill sets like computer programming might be particularly valuable, Startup Summer is designed to be open to any student with demonstrated passion, dependability, and learning ability.

Companies such as Tendril, SendGrid, Rally, Integrate, Gnip, Orbotix, Trada, Next Big Sound, LinkSmart, Standing Cloud, Sympoz, NewsGator, and TechStars have already committed so you’ll be in good company.

If your company is interested in joining Startup Summer, please email me and I’ll get you plugged in.

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