I arrived this morning to a downpour and a city that feels exceedingly waterlogged. I’m sitting at a coffee shop in Berkeley in advance of a talk I’m giving on Startup Communities, a topic that to me suddenly feels even more relevant than before given the self-inflicted chaos going on at a macro level in America. As things unfold, I’m calmly pondering the next 20 years as I put the final touches on a presentation for a talk at the Greenspring Associates annual meeting later this week.
My partner Ryan is going to the NewCo Shift Forum while I’m theoretically covering SaaStr (and doing a brief speaking bit tomorrow there and then at the Strictly VC event.) While reading Fred Wilson’s post Capitalism At A Crossroads, John Battelle’s efforts and conference spiked in relevance to me. But it’s too late to shuffle things this time around.
Last week was sunny in LA at the Upfront Summit. Mark Suster and team did an amazing job – I think this was one of the best two day conferences I’ve ever been to. If you want a quick taste, read Mark’s recent posts titled Why Was Winter in Venture Capital Funding so Short? and How Glenn Beck Won the Audience Over at the Upfront Summit.
My version of VC Conference Season ends on Friday, as there are endless opportunities in the next few months to spend two days to pretend to work while sitting with a bunch of other people at a conference, waiting to participate in a 30 minute panel or doing a fireside chat. I’m wrapping this week up and then I’m done for a while, as I shift my extra energy to maker mode. In this mean time, I’m pretty sure I won’t need a shower tomorrow to fit in around the bay area – I’ll just need to go outside and walk a few blocks.
If there’s one consistent concern I hear from the companies I work with, it’s the shortage of qualified tech talent. But just like in so many other areas, a Boulder entrepreneur has come up a great idea to address the problem that not only adds to the talent pipeline, but also brings in more diversity — a personal passion of mine.
Too often, aspiring engineers who lack the funds to pursue a computer science degree from a university or take part in a bootcamp find themselves locked out of technology jobs, despite often severe talent shortages. Think about it: if you need to pay rent and buy groceries, it’s pretty tough to quit, or work part time, and pay either tuition or boot camp fees. To address this, Heather Terenzio, founder and CEO of Boulder’s Techtonic Group, developed Techtonic Academy, an innovative solution in the form of Colorado’s first federally recognized by the Department of Labor technology apprenticeship. Rather than paying thousands in tuition or fees, qualified individuals can get their foot in the door to a tech career while earning a salary from their very first day.
Techtonic Academy provides underprivileged youth, minorities, women, and veterans both technical training and mentorship to become entry-level software engineers and pursue a career in the technology field. It works like this: the program looks for people with an interest in and aptitude for tech but little or no formal training — think gamers, self-taught hobbyists and the like — and puts them to work as apprentices. They work with senior developers to gain coding experience on real client projects under careful guidance and supervision while earning a livable salary. They are required to earn a series of accreditation badges covering coding skills and are constantly mentored in “soft” skills — things like being on time or working effectively on a team.
After about six months, graduating apprentices are qualified junior developers, ready to work. Some choose to stay at Techtonic Group, where they become part of a team to build custom software, mobile applications and content-managed websites, while others move on to Techtonic Group clients. If a client hires an apprentice, Techtonic does not charge a conversion fee, which can run into the thousands for a junior developer hired through a traditional recruiter.
As Heather told me, “I have an Ivy League education, but that’s not where I learned to code. I learned to code doing it on the job.” I think many software developers share that sentiment.
Heather welcomes all technology hopefuls and works hard to bring diversity to the program, recruiting women, veterans and those who aren’t in a financial position to quit work to pursue a degree or certificate. The benefits are obvious. Apprentices earn a living salary on their first day, and we as a tech community can support a program that puts more coders in the market with a keen eye toward diversity and opportunity while getting work completed.
Heather’s got a great idea and it gives all of us the chance to both find help on projects and add new, diverse talent to our community. Reach out to Heather if you’d like more information.
As someone who disdains software patents and is appalled by universities, especially publicly funded ones, acting as patent trolls, I applaud the MIT Media Lab’s move.
Eric von Hippel, my PhD advisor at MIT (I didn’t finish) and one of my early mentors, co-wrote two of the seminal papers on how free and open source software (FOSS – and now FLOSS) impacts innovation.
- How Open Source software works: “Free” user-to-user assistance
- Open Source Software and the “Private-Collective” Innovation Model: Issues for Organization Science
Joi’s punch line says it all.
“As an academic institution, we believe that in many cases we can achieve greater impact by sharing our work.”
I couldn’t agree more and applaud Joi’s vision and leadership.
A little over eight years ago, Eric Norlin and I decided to start Defrag. It all started with an email exchange, wherein Eric thought one of my posts would make a good conference, I told him how much I disliked tech conferences, and we resolved to go build one that was done the right way.
Since that point, Defrag has grown into what I think is one of the most influential conversations in technology. Several years back, we consciously decided to limit Defrag’s size (number of attendees) because we were afraid of losing the intimacy of the networking. The result has been the growth of a community that gathers every year at the Omni Interlocken for two days plus of really amazing ideas, relationship building, and conversations.
Along those lines, just take a look at some of this year’s speakers:
Chris Anderson, 3D Robotics (ex-editor of Wired)
George Dyson (author of “Turing’s Cathedral”)
Amber Case (Esri)
Penny Herscher (FirstRain)
Helen Greiner (CyPhy Works)
John Wilbanks (Sage Bionetworks)
Shireen Yates (6Sensor Labs)
Paul Kedrosky (Bloomberg)
Kin Lane (API Evangelist)
Laura Merling (AT&T)
Danielle Morrill (Mattermark)
In short, drones, robots, APIs, big data, mobile, and history all coming together in one compact place.
Defrag is a unique experience, and if you’re local to Colorado, it brings some of the most influential names in tech into your backyard.
Lastly, I’d like to recognize how much work Eric has put into achieving some level of gender parity on the agenda, especially at the keynote level. Far too many conferences these days are doing a horrible job at this. Defrag has been out in front of this issue for a long-time, and I know that we work every year to get better at it. And, if you’d like to apply for a “Women in Tech” scholarship to Defrag, you can do so here.
Don’t miss out. Register now. Use the code “brad14″ to get $200 of the registration.
Jason and I are once again doing the Venture Deals online class as part of the Kauffman Fellows Academy. The course begins on Monday (9/29/14) so sign up now if you are interested.
This will be the third time we are doing this course. We are having a lot of fun with it and love the dynamics of working with the Kauffman Fellows Academy. The feedback has been generally excellent and we’ve tried to take into consideration all the suggestions we’ve heard about what we can do better.
We’ll be actively involved with hangouts during the course as well as on the message boards. If you are interested in really understanding how venture deals and startup financings work, please join us for the course.
Larry is one of the originals in the Boulder biotech scene, having founded numerous successful companies including NeXagen (acquired by Gilead) and Synergen (acquired by Amgen). He’s been a professor at CU Boulder since 1980 and was the chairman of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department from 1988 to 1992. So – when you think of the evolution of the Boulder startup community around life sciences, Larry has been involved since the beginning.
I’ve gotten to know Larry over the past few years through a few different vectors. He and my dad (Stan Feld) have become friends and my dad participates in Larry’s annual GoldLab Symposium. He and I have spent some 1:1 time together and I’m blown away by how similar some of our values and deeply held beliefs are. In Larry, I’ve definitely found a mentor and someone whose path I can learn from as I get older.
Next week on February 18th, I have the honor of having a conversation with him as a part of the Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurs Unplugged series. He’ll be telling his story, and with the help of the audience, I’ll explore his background that resulted in a successful career. I encourage you to join us.
David Cohen (Techstars Founder) and I are doing a Google Hangout On Air that is open to anyone on 11/13/13 (what a prime day for something like this). It’s part of a Google Enterprise series on Colorado pioneers driving the local economy and culture. We’ll be talking about Techstars, Colorado, tech, and anything else that comes up.
This came out of a series of interviews with Google recently where we explained why Foundry Group takes venture capital to the cloud with Google Apps and how Techstars assists tomorrow’s entrepreneurs with help from Google Apps.
Come join us! Register here if you want to hangout.
Last week our portfolio company, JumpCloud – who is deep in the DevOps market with their automated cloud server management product – hosted the first annual DevOps conference here in Boulder. It was a huge success – we had over 200 people show up and engage in a full day of deep discussions on DevOps.
We are huge fans of the DevOps movement. Similar to how we got involved in the Agile movement early with our investment in Rally Software, we are long on DevOps with investments in companies such as JumpCloud, VictorOps, SendGrid, Pantheon, Authentic8 and others. We see DevOps instantiating the lean startup culture throughout an organization. DevOps promotes short cycle times, automation, and deep integration across a company with the goal of innovating quicker and more effectively against customers’ needs. In short, we view it as a cultural methodology that increases the odds of success for a company.
The day was fantastic, starting with Raj Bhargava (CEO of JumpCloud) and Paul Ford (SoftLayer) kicking things off with a short discussion about what DevOps is. I was next with a quick discussion framing why DevOps is critical to our companies and their customers. From there, we had presentations by Ryan Martens (CTO of Rally) on learnings from Agile, Nathan Day (Chief Scientist of SoftLayer) on the incredible automation at SoftLayer, and a number of great panels from CEOs, CTOs, and VPs of Engineering of DevOps related companies. Three of our portfolio companies – SendGrid, Mocavo, and Gnip – closed the formal part of the day with case studies on different areas of DevOps.
Later, the full group headed to Bacaro for more casual conversations around DevOps. I ended the night at Walnut Brewery with Raj and a few close friends watching the Red Sox lose game two of the World Series to the Cardinals.
The engagement on the topic of DevOps was really powerful. The questions flowed quickly – it’s clear everyone is struggling with how to define DevOps – what it means, who should be involved in an organization, and how to recruit for it. While the word is quickly becoming entrenched, it’s a new category with a wide range of opportunities.
When Raj came to me several months ago suggesting that we should put on a conference around DevOps for all of the Foundry Group, Techstars, and Bullet Time Ventures companies it was easy to be excited about it. I expected about 50 people to participate – it was amazing to look around the room and see 200 really engaged people. I’m proud of Raj and Paul for putting this on and thankful for all of the effort that our companies made to get there and participate!
An event called Startup Phenomenon is happening In Boulder on 11/13 – 11/15. It gets to the heart of how startup communities are developed and I’d love to have you join me at it. If you register to come, use the code “feldfriends” for $100 off the $995 price.
You may have seen the recent Kauffman Foundation study that ranked Boulder tops among all cities in the U.S. in terms of tech-startup density. That Boulder was number one was interesting, but what’s more exciting is that there are so many emergent startup communities around the United States that it’s now worth ranking them.
Startup Phenomenon is designed to bring attention to these communities, from small towns to large cities, as we explore how this startup phenomenon works. We’ll cover topics including:
- The Finance Chain: How VCs, angels, crowdfunding models, and all the rest fit together
- Startup Kitchens: Transformative accelerators, incubators, and mentorship programs
- Big data: New tools for measuring growth, investments, and economic activity
- Networking models: The meetups that are truly improving the businesses of those who attend
- Case studies: Entrepreneurs and investors who are building startup communities around the world
- Culture: The major shift taking place away from hierarchical structures to collaborative networks
- City governments: Why some are better than others at nurturing local startups
- Corporations: How large, established companies can help startup communities
- The silos: Biotech, food, the Internet of things, clean energy, and all the other sectors providing fertile ground for entrepreneurs and investors
On the third day of the conference we will provide a deep look into what’s going on here in Colorado. That Kauffman report of densest startup communities actually had four Colorado cities in the top 10 (Boulder, Ft. Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs.) And you may have seen that the New York Times recently dubbed Boulder “Silicon Valley for Ad Agencies.”
The speakers list is awesome. As a special treat, I get to interview Jim Collins author of Built to Last, Good to Great, How the Mighty Fall, and Great By Choice who happens to live in Boulder.
This will be a great opportunity for you to bring attention to your work and to learn about the entrepreneurs and investors who have come together around the world to build vibrant, open startup communities.
The agenda is now about 90% complete (check the google doc for real-time updates) and Eric tells me that he’ll be finalizing everything in the next week or so.
For those of you who attended two years ago, you may remember my “Resistance is Inevitable” talk about the rise of the machines. This year, I’ll be leading two different sessions.
First, Jerry Colonna and I will be having a discussion about the emotional challenges of entrepreneurship. I’ve written about Jerry many times on my blog. He’s a huge resource to entrepreneurs, a great mentor and confidant of mine, and I’m looking forward to a public conversation about some topics near and dear to both of us.
Second, I’ll be having a conversation with Boris Sofman of Anki. Hopefully he’ll bring some toys for us to play with.
For a taste of some of the other topics, ponder:
- The Rise of the Citizen Explorer (which about the happenings at OpenROV)
- The History and Future of Calm Technology
- One Billion per Second: The Rise of Designer Data Architectures
- Lighting up the world with sensors: using data to effect change
Add in great WiFi, amazing people, an intimate and welcoming atmosphere, and three days of impact-filled ideas, and you’ll quickly find out why Defrag is one of my favorite events of the year.
If you register before Friday, the code “brad15” will take 15% off of your registration.
See you there!