I’ve lived in Boulder for 15 years after living in Boston for a dozen. While I’ve spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley — both as an angel and venture capital investor — I’ve never lived there. While the firm I’m a partner in — Foundry Group — invests all over the United States, I regularly hear statements like, “The only place to start a tech company is in Silicon Valley.”
When David Cohen (CEO of TechStars) and I co-founded TechStars in Boulder, Colo., in 2006, we had two goals in mind. The first was to energize the early stage software/Internet entrepreneurial community in Boulder. The second was to get new first-time entrepreneurs involved more deeply in the Boulder entrepreneurial community. Four years later, we feel like we really understand how entrepreneurial communities grow and evolve.
First is the recognition that Silicon Valley is a special place. It’s futile to try to be the next Silicon Valley. Instead, recognize that Silicon Valley has strengths and weaknesses. Learn from the strengths and incorporate the ones that fit with your community while trying to avoid the weaknesses. Leverage the natural resources of your community and be the best, unique entrepreneurial community that you can be. Basically, play to your strengths.
Next, get ready for a 20-year journey. Most entrepreneurial communities ramp up over a three- to five-year period and then stall or collapse, with the early leaders getting bored, moving away, getting rich and changing their priorities, or just disengaging. It takes a core group of leaders — at least half a dozen — to commit to provide leadership over at least 20 years.
But these two things — playing to the strengths of your community and going on a 20-year journey — are table stakes. Without them, you won’t get anywhere, but you need more. In Boulder, we’ve figured out two critical things for creating a sustainable entrepreneurial community.
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