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One of the key components of any university is space for studying, acting, writing, and painting – but what about space for starting up companies? The University of Colorado Boulder has been at the forefront of breeding and teaching entrepreneurship for many years now, but it has been missing a communal area where student entrepreneurs can work, gather, and live.
Enter Spark Boulder. Spark is the first space dedicated for startups and entrepreneurially-minded students at CU. The community has really rallied together to make this happen – Spark’s founders, a set of students and alumni who buy into the concept of “doertocracy,” have the support and involvement of both on-campus and off-campus organizations.
Entrepreneurial energy is nothing new to CU; its community is recognized as one of the most vibrant in the country, its resources are now blossoming in something substantial, and its students are more entrepreneurial minded and motivated than ever. Giving this community, these students, and these resources a space to live is the next step to developing more viable startups at CU.
Spark Boulder opened it’s doors on 2/21 and it’s already become the home for student entrepreneurs that the founders envisioned.
Here are the details of the space.
- Location: the heart of student life on the “Hill” in Boulder, Colorado
- Size: 5,400 square feet
- Office Layout: 4 offices, 34 desks, a 75 person event space, 2 conference rooms,
- Amenities: mail room, kitchen, and even a bathroom with a stenciled face in the door. Who’s face? You guessed it, yours truly.
Spark’s event space will be filled many nights of the week and some weekends with startup focused events that are free and open to anyone interested. Some groups are already scheduling the space when it opens in January 2014; these include the NVC, Boulder Creatives, and StartupCU. I’m holding my March Random Day at Spark in a couple of weeks. Also, CU Boulder Startup Weekend, which is the weekend of March 14th, is being held in the space.
Every Friday, Spark will hold its flagship event, Plugin. Students and community members are welcome to come plugin to WiFi, plugin to power, and plugin to all things entrepreneurial on and around campus. This free, all day event is designed to lower the barriers of creating a strong entrepreneurial community at the university. Students come to work, to connect with like minded students, and to connect with mentors. Community members come to help and mentor students, to find and develop talent for their organizations, and to plugin to CU’s entrepreneurial community. Many local organizations will hold office hours on this day; these include the Archer Bay, DCVF, nLab, and Voltage,
As I wrote before, the Boulder community has come together to help Spark with the initial build-out. Alongside Amy and myself, the sponsor list is extensive. It includes Archer Bay, Pivotal Labs, ArcStone Partners, Sendgrid, TapInfluence, Inspirato, Applied Trust, Proto Test, Mike Finney, nLab and Silicon Valley Bank. That said, Spark is just getting off the ground and can use some additional support. Here are some ways to support this community space:
- Financial donations for continual improvements to the physical space – $15k is still needed
- Sponsor a student startup to use the space
- Deck out the office with some furniture or some office equipment
- If you’re a local entrepreneur, hold office hours during the weekly Friday event
- Rent a desk and work out of the space
If you can help out in any of these ways (and I’m sure you can), or just want to talk co-working, reach out to Ben Buie, one of the founders of Spark, at email@example.com.
Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 is officially available today and can be bought online at Amazon and pretty much everywhere else. It’s the first title from FG Press and is in a category we call “startup fiction” and expect to be publishing a lot of. Think of what John Grisham did to the “legal fiction” genre. That’s what we are doing with Uncommon Stock and startup fiction.
Mara Winkel and James Chen are undergraduates at CU Boulder. Mara is pre-law, James is a computer science major. James comes up with an idea for a new machine learning technology that he creates a prototype for using the game Go as his starting point. James asks Mara to join him as his partner in the new company Moziak, which they launch against the protests of their parents but the surprising emotional support of Mara’s boyfriend Craig. Early on Mara and James start applying the technology to forensic accounting and get tangled up with some bad guys. As Mara tries to get funding for the company, James cranks on the product, and Craig goes off the rails, endangering everyone. Then things start getting really complicated. And interesting. And then the VCs show up.
I love this book. This project started about a year ago when Eliot Peper send me a cold email. I didn’t know Eliot, but he sent me a thoughtful note and attached a few chapters of a book to read. He was upfront that this was his first book, that is was tech fiction, and that he wanted my opinion. I read it that night on my couch in my condo and I can still remember turning to Amy after I finished, saying “wow – this is really great!”
Eliot continued writing and I continued giving him feedback. About six months ago I told him about the idea we were cooking up for FG Press and asked if he wanted to publish with us as an experiment. He jumped at it and our relationship, which now included Dane McDonald (FG Press’s CEO) deepened. Eliot finished his first draft in January and over a period of a few weeks I read through the book several times, making significant edits, adding a bunch of local Boulder color, and tuning up some of the story. Eliot was amazing during the edit process – working closely with me, my wife Amy Batchelor who also provided an editing pass, and then our formal editors who did a tight copy-edit of the book.
During this period, we worked together with Eliot on the launch of FG Press as well as his book. We’ve used Uncommon Stock as the alpha test for our process and have improved a lot of things. You’ll see some obvious things from us, like a 10 chapter free giveaway (if you want to sample the book before you buy it). You’ll also see some not so obvious things, like the ability (soon) to buy the book using Bitcoins.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of “the duo” a lot recently.
Many of the companies I’m involved in have either two co-founders or two partners who partner up early in the life of the business. Examples of founding partners including Andrei and Peter (Kato.im), Keith and Jeff (BigDoor), James and Eric (Fitbit), and Matthew and Cashman (Yesware). Of course there are many other famous founding duos like Steve and Steve (Apple), Jerry and Dave (Yahoo!), Larry and Sergey (Google), and Bill and Paul (Microsoft). My first company (Feld Technologies) had a duo (me and Dave) and the company that bought Feld Technologies did also – Jerry and Len (AmeriData).
Now, these duos are not the leadership team. But there is a special magic relationship between the duo. I like to think about it like the final fight scene from Mr. and Mrs. Smith where Brad and Angelina are back to back, spinning around in circles, doing damage to the enemy.
This is not just “I’ve got your back, you’ve got my back.” It’s “we are in this together. All in. For keeps.”
It’s just like my relationship with Amy. We are both all in. It’s so powerful – in good times and in bad times.
I’ve loved being involved in Orbotix from the very beginning. I got to know Adam and Ian, the founders, even before they got into Techstars. Their original company name was GearBox and they probably wouldn’t haven’t gotten into Techstars except that both Nicole Glaros and I said “we love these guys – fuck it – let’s try a hardware company this time.”
Paul Berberian, one of Adam and Ian’s lead mentors during Techstars joined them as the third co-founder before demo day and we led the seed round shortly after. Orbotix is now 40 people, with hundreds of thousands of Sphero’s out in the wild and being played with, and a new product (currently codenamed 2B) coming out this fall.
The company is on the forefront of a new category I like to call “connected play.” It’s not a static toy, like kids have been playing with since the beginning of time. It’s not a game on a pane of glass like an iPhone or iPad. It’s a dynamic toy that you can play with online, via your pane of glass, or in the real world, with friends, connected together online. And it gets upgraded continually, with new software and new games.
I’ve talked in the past about how I love origin stories. I bet you didn’t know that before there was Sphero, Adam and Ian made an iPhone-based garage door opener well before that was cool and trendy. Enjoy the three minute origin story of Orbotix.
On Thursday March 6th I’m doing my first public talk about my newest book – Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors.
If you’ve got a copy, bring it and I’ll sign it. If you don’t have a copy, our friends at Silicon Valley Bank have sponsored one for each of you. But don’t be bashful, every good writer loves it when you buy a book also, even when he gives one away.
Since this is the first time I’m giving a talk on Startup Boards, it’ll be an alpha talk. It’ll be rough. I’m trying out some new material. And I’ll be looking for a lot of feedback from anyone who attends – either directly or by email later – about how to make it extra special great.
I probably gave my talk about Startup Communities 20 times before I hit my stride. The feedback that I got along the way was extremely helpful. So, in addition to learning something and getting a free signed book, you’ll be helping me out.
Also, everyone who attends will get a second extra special gift. It’s a surprise, so you’ll have to be there to learn about it.
You can sign up for the event at the Silicon Flatirons event page. Or hit the big Register Now button at the top of this post.