Ryan Martens on Councilperson Macon Cowles’ Ignorance of the Boulder Startup Community
Like many here in Boulder, I felt that Boulder City Councilperson Macon Cowles’ recent remarks about our startup community were both ignorant and offensive. A group of entrepreneurs posted an OpEd this weekend responding to those remarks in the Daily Camera (it’s worth nothing the diversity of those entrepreneurs vs. Councilperson Cowles’ flatly incorrect characterization of Boulder entrepreneurs). Ryan Martens – a long time Boulder entrepreneur and community activist – felt the same way and asked to borrow this spot to post some of his own thoughts on the diversity of the Boulder entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as the many ways that entrepreneurs in Boulder are giving back to our community. His post follows.
I was very discouraged to see councilperson Macon Cowles’ comments from Boulder’s city council meeting the 2nd week of August. “Boulder’s startup economy brought a lot of very highly paid white men to the city, and they were pricing out families and others.” He then followed up with the statement “I don’t think that’s what people want.” His over simplified view that Boulder’s entrepreneurial community is the direct source of an affordable housing shortage is grossly incorrect.
Why attack the startup community? It is even more disappointing given the significant impact a collaboration between the City of Boulder and local startups could have in addressing complex social issues that face our whole community.
I’d counter his comment with facts: The startup community is very present in positive ways in many aspects of Boulder.
During last year’sflood, startups pulled together to fund relief and contributed more than $200,000 and hundreds of volunteer hours during normal work hours. Most participating startups weren’t even making a profit at the time.
The Entrepreneurs Foundation at the Boulder Community Foundation has contributed more than $2 Million for local non-profits during the past two years through donations of stock options at the time of initial offerings (a circumstance unique to startups).
I want to see our community working and collaborating at a level where we are increasing the economy while addressing issues around environmental sustainability and social equity. It is actually the social mission of my company, (a business I started in Boulder 11 years ago and now employees 250+ in Colorado) – to create Citizen Engineers who use their skills to do just that. The lack of affordable housing issue has been brewing here just like it has in many strong economic cities in America. It is complex issue tied to the income gap, a booming economy and smart growth strategies that started in Boulder the 1950’s with the blue line and the greenbelt. (Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge supporter of these land management solutions and benefitted greatly by learning from the architects of these models while I attended CU in the 1980’s – Thank you Al Bartlett!).
Thanks to the growing activism of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, programs such as Better Boulder are forming to help address the housing problem with a systemic approach. I would encourage the City to reach out, to collaborate and be open to talented people who care about this community working towards creative solutions.
New programs such as Code for America Fellowship program is one such opportunity to reach out towards a creative solution. This program places two or three full-time technologists on staff with a city government for a year specifically to engage the local citizenry to build a Brigade. The Brigade goes on to develop solutions for municipal efforts. Denver has benefitted from Code for America fellows and the City has applied again for fellows for 2015. Boulder’s startup community and my company support these efforts to wrestle with systemic issues such as affordable housing, while increasing citizen engagement in government through civic hacking.
I know the startup community well through work with the Entrepreneurs Foundation, Startup Colorado and other regional efforts, I have helped actively build community capacity along the Front Range and created a venue for corporate giving to Boulder’s Community Foundation.
Starting a contentious dialog by blaming a single component of our community isn’t constructive and doesn’t inspire solutions. Let’s not take steps backward as a community in our level of engagement. I know the startup community is here to work hard to make it better for all.
Please remember that community is not something we create, but something we need to recognize we are already in, that takes nurturing.
CU Grad, 1988 & 1991
Founder, Rally Software
CEO, Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado
Board Member, Startup Colorado
Prior-Board member Colorado Conservation Trust, Friends School and Knight Foundation