The Boulder Ecosystem: What I learned from being there 8 hours

Despite I visited Boulder 5 years ago (2014), I believe this is still valuable for anyone who wants to know what a city needs to have to become a real tech hub.

Boulder Downtown

Boulder, a magical place where a lot of startups have been successful — an example not only for Americans but for the world in terms of innovation and entrepreneurial progress. Being from Monterrey, MX, and always committed to developing the city as an innovation hub like Boulder’s atmosphere, here are the points I can highlight from my trip to Boulder in those days.

Boulder’s Ecosystem advantages for entrepreneurship:

  • All the places are close to each other. I made 20 minutes walking from downtown to SendGrid HeadQuarters. It was key realizing how easy would it be for students doing an internship on a tech company located in downtown moving on specific hours to work with the team or assist in any activity. The other way around as well, walking from any startup location to a well-known coffee shop or bar, was easy as just walking two blocks and asking the bartender after just 5 minutes for a crafted IPA.
  • A creators destination. Thinking in different emerging hubs, some will have a very definitive flavor in terms of that’s the main objective of residing there — whether is fundraising, customer discovery, to operate the business and so on. But a core thing making people travel and stay in Boulder is because of the craft. They aren’t looking for a client specifically, they are looking to create. Needless to say, there should be always someone on your team willing to travel, talk to users or seek for new markets; but in Boulder, people are worried to build the best product they can and speak up with a beautiful landscape on the background to get inspired every day.
  • A college town with high-quality students. The University of Colorado is hosted there with a great offer in terms of degrees, and that generates a lot of possibilities to the city. From many entrepreneurial possibilities to explore with this niche, a young workforce seeking for opportunities, and also, ambitious people willing to follow other leaders from the city and replicate their journey initial steps. This is a virtuous circle that helps the city sustain its own development and fulfill their employment needs.
  • A real entrepreneurial atmosphere. Being in other emerging digital hubs was almost the same feeling as being in Boulder. Not only tech startups, but restaurants, live music being played at bars, people willing to create and add value to others. Startups were around restaurants, bars, coworking spaces, so when you finish work you can go to these places and perhaps continue working, or connect with others. Changing in context is always good; this is a city where it easily can happen. Additionally, since Brad Feld’s movement to the city, there has been an explosion in Boulder and the origin of TechStars and becoming a global movement, has helped the city to host many successful entrepreneurs and companies.
  • Controlled population density. Almost 110K people living there. I didn’t get involved in knowing more about the social dynamics and how many are moving in to study or work per year. However, my feeling is that this balance between plenty of progress and projects, with a balanced number of people in the same radius, allows everyone to live and let live.
  • People Attitude! No matter your profession, background or intentions, people are very kind and helpful. Being a visitor to the city, I received a lot of help from locals, and I got to know really well the main places around the city.
  • Residential areas + Big Companies + Coworking spaces + Universities + Startups of any kind: A basic formula for a successful place.

If I need to highlight a very specific set of topics and considerations to replicate the minimum elements of this city into another, what is needed to become a place like this?

  • Mobility options: Coming from a city that is car-driven, with long highways, similar to any city in Texas, mobility becomes critical. At this point, we have seen alternative mobility options like scooters and van services. A strategy needs to be defined so people spend less time moving around and more time connecting with others and doing their stuff.
  • Concentration of key players: It is a combination of multiple actors, and it is not enough to be in the same city but to be in the same place or area. Whether we are talking about a coworking place hosting a big number of tech-startups, or some meetups being hosted on the same bar, or many companies opening offices close to the University, the concentration of multiple actors is important to elevate the status and let initiatives emerge.
  • (Real) Success Cases: It is critical to share authentic cases from people that started a business in your field and achieve a presumable milestone. Some consider those successes as exits: IPOs, M&As, but also considering a business that is profitable, and bootstrapped with the minimum resources are stories worth hearing as well. The point is having real cases where people are surpassing the expectation and achieving more than what the city has achieved regarding that field. You need to keep inspiring the future generations, so the past needs to be respected and shared.
  • Mentorship: From those success cases you need to close the loop connecting someone that succeded, with the upcoming generation of first-time entrepreneurs. It is not enough to tell the story of how someone thrived in the same place you are right now but to share true experiences and giving the right advice to help other people reduce the number of failures and derisk the possibility of quitting.
  • Life besides your job: Having clear options to hang out and have an alternative conversation to what you are doing in your day to day job is important. Cities with a variety of options will increase the life-style of the area, conglomerating a wider diversity due to all choices people will have. From culture to leisure, public spaces, street shops, concerts, hotels, and more.

Although there are different factors that can be taken as a reference from Boulder, every city and emerging hub is going to have its own essence. Many people have tried to insert the Silicon Valley ethos into other places, but the reality is that all conditions and people involved in allowing Silicon Valley become what it is right now was a matter of timing, history and inherited elements just happened during the ’70s. Yes, there should be a minimum set of factors that need to be considered, plus all the factors that make any city be that unique place to be.

Eduardo Lopez De Leon

Written by

Co-founder at Icalia Labs. Software, my career. Ambivert, Progressive and Vehement.

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