Someone asked me this week for some qualitative data on the factors that lead Boulder to emerge over the past 5 or so years as one of the country’s top markets for start-ups. It’s a great question and I know that there are many other cities that are trying to follow Boulder’s example. I thought it was worth posting these thoughts – I’m sure others will have things to add to this.
The quantitative data are pretty boring – Colorado has stayed very consistent in terms of overall venture investment activity (~ $600M/year putting us clearly in the 2nd tier of venture markets). In fact an increasing percentage of this funding has come from out of state investors (93% in the last year I saw data for – 09’).
Given this it’s an interesting question why Boulder is considered such a great startup market (as I think you know, BusinessWeek voted Boulder the most entrepreneurial city in America, the NYT did a great story on Boulder, Fox Business was just out here, etc.). There are a couple of keys to this success in my view.
Boulder has many leaders. I said this in a post in response to a Forbes article last week on Boulder/Foundry, but Foundry, while active, isn’t the center of Boulder entrepreneurial activity. No one is and that’s one of the keys to Boulder’s success. For sure my partners and I do a ton to support and promote Boulder, but we have people like Robert Reich who started the NewTech Meetup here (attracts 400+ people monthly to their event); Andrew Hyde who organized TedXBoulder (great event, tons of stuff on that on the web), StartUp Weekend (which started in Boulder), Boulder.me (recruiting event in Boulder) and Ignite Boulder (sells out the largest space in town every time he does it); Joe Pezzillo who organizes a bunch of iPhone developer stuff locally; Eric Norlin who along with us brings the Defrag and Glue conferences (ok – he doesn’t live here, but he organizes great events here); and of course David Cohen who started TechStars here (and you know that story). You get the point – I think THE key to Boulder’s success is that we have many many pillars of the tech community.
Boulder rocks. Seriously – who wouldn’t want to live in Boulder? I say that only partially in jest. We import a lot of talent (Boulder has the highest per capita number of engineers of any city in the country, for example). We have great natural assets and we’re not afraid to use them. I regularly pitch people on moving to Boulder and it’s an easy sell. Everyone here is in shape, has tons of interests outside of work and you’re minutes from cycling, mountain biking, trail running, skiing, etc. To be sure there are plenty of great cities in the country, but we Boulder is definitely among the great places to live in the US (in my opinion!).
TechStars. I don’t think you can underestimate the effect TechStars has had on the Boulder community. It galvanized a group of tech professionals as mentors. It brought a bunch of young talent and energy to town (many of whom stayed to build their businesses here after the TechStars summer) and it helped raise Boulder’s national profile.
Openness. I could have put this under “Boulder rocks” but one of the truly great things about Boulder is how open and helpful people here are. There’s little to no BS around making sure you’re doing better than everyone else and it’s considered an expectation of people in this community that you give back. To other entrepreneurs. To your favorite charity. To programs like TechStars. It’s had a huge effect on this ecosystem.