In 2010, Boulder, CO was named “America’s Best Town for Startups”. Why?
“With the University of Colorado as an anchor and a backyard full of mountains as lifestyle bait, Boulder now has the highest concentration of software engineers per capita in the nation. It’s second only to Silicon Valley in percentage of workers employed in tech, according to the American Electronics Assn. Best-selling author and urban development expert Richard Florida says it has the greatest concentration of the “creative class”—scientists, artists, engineers, and the like—in the U.S.
The university and prestigious research labs such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Institute of Standards & Technology have long attracted well-educated folks to Boulder.”
Does this sound like any city you might know?
In 2006, David G. Cohen co-founded TechStars. The idea was simple, but pretty bold – “create a program that would help create a bunch of new startups in Boulder”.
“Our belief was that the mentors–many of whom were experienced entrepreneurs– would engage deeply with the first-time entrepreneurs (the “TechStars”) over the 90-day program to help them get their businesses up and running..”
Then 5 years later, the model Cohen helped build in Boulder has been wildly successful, launching 80 companies, attracting 200 mentors and expanding from Boulder to Boston, Seattle and New York.
So what is the key to success for TechStars and Boulder? Well, money, for one thing. TechStars provides $18,000 seed funding to each of the companies accepted into their program. But money isn’t the only answer.
Each year hundreds of companies from all over the country apply to TechStars and 10 companies per city are accepted into the program. So the Boulder community benefits from the attraction of nearly $180,000 in startup investments made each year into TechStars companies, many of which move to Boulder. Young, creative entrepreneurs move there. They setup shop there. It was all part of the plan from the beginning.
“In our best case, we’d help start a bunch of neat new companies. In our worst case, we’d lose all of the money that we invested in the program but we’d end up attracting 20-plus new entrepreneurs to our Boulder community.”
While money is key, it’s not the only thing. Cohen published an article on his blog, describing a recent discussion he had with a group of entrepreneurs and investors in San Diego, where he shared with them 7 things that really made Boulder work:
“So, I rattled off 7 things to the dinner group to spur discussion:
- Richard Florida’s work on the Creative Class matters. Please read it. This is now table stakes.
- I talked about how the real up and coming communities are entrepreneur led. Everyone else’s job is to support the entrepreneurs who are leading. I referenced Tony Hsieh in Las Vegas as a great current example of this.
- We discussed the idea of a “high quality focal point.” – This is the notion that you need something in your community that engages everyone deeply across the spectrum of first time entrepreneurs, more experienced entrepreneurs, service providers, angels, venture capitalists, students, etc. They have to have something “real” to do together. TechStars provides this for the communities that we’re in. But it can be anything, as long as it drives real activity and energy together and it’s something that’s not shallow.
- We talked about Brad Feld’s notion of entrepreneurial density. If the best efforts of a town occur in a dense area, you will have more serendipity and excitement around startups a compact area. In Boulder, this is palpable.
- We talked about what Brad calls “fresh meat” – a constant inflow of new talent. Again, TechStars provides this. But so do universities. The best entrepreneurial communities seem to do this well.
- We talked about being vocal about your community. I told the folks from San Diego “I can’t hear you!”. Talk about this more, and let the world know about your successes. Again, this has to come from the entrepreneurs (and be amplified by the media).
- Finally, I said that a community needs visible entry points. Boulder’s new tech meetup and boulder.me web sites are great examples. I love the “ambassadors” part of Boulder.me. Look at the entrepreneurial leaders who have stuck their hand up to say “I’ll show you around here.” Amazing.”
This is a set of recommendations that leaders in Tucson should look at closely. Startup Tucson and many other people and organizations are having this discussion right now.
At Startup Tucson, we are committed to helping build a robust startup ecosystem here in Tucson. In the weeks and months ahead, we will be rolling out tools to help create a more connected and informed community. We are launching Startup Tucson News to cover the startup events and companies from our local community. We will be launching a collaborative calendaring platform to help inform people of what’s going on in the community.
Please join us. The first step is to get involved:
- If you are working from home now, show up at local co-office spaces and work among the like-minded, creative people at Spoke6, Gangplank Tucson and the Arizona Center for Innovation.
- If you are an investor or have a company that needs investment, work with the Desert Angels, Solstice Capital or Arch Partners.
- If you are an experienced entrepreneur, volunteer your time as a mentor through the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, the Arizona Center for Innovation and Gangplank Tucson.
- If you are involved with (or interested in working with) the University of Arizona, contact the UA Office of Technology Transfer, the UA Office of Corporate Business Relations or watch for Tech Launch Arizona.
- No matter who you are, attend the educational workshops and other events being hosted by Startup Tucson, by the Arizona Technology Council, by all of the organizations named above and many others around our community.
To pull this off, we need you, the creatives, developers, designers, inventors, and investors… to show up… speak out… contribute… create…. and do your part in Building the Next Tucson.