Why we go to Boulder

From May 17 to 24 a group of startup enthuisiasts from Heerlen are visiting Boulder Colorado (and the Boulder Startup Week)

The not so pretty history

Heerlen is a City of about 100K inhabitants and a wider city-agglomeration of 250K called Parkstad. Still somewhat recovering from the loss of mining industry and a somewhat failed rescue attempt in the late 70’s early 80’s by the Dutch national government that brought large service organizations to the city. Unfortunately, in the proces laying waste to all industrial heritage. “From Black to Green” the slogan read. In 20 years, the richest city of the Netherlands became crime capital and what grew into a modern city in the first part of the 20th century crumbled as industry and jobs relocated to other cities in the region.

Picking up clients with a last remnant of the old Mines in the background. (somewhere in the 90's)

In the 80’s the city was infested with junkies and girls looking to pick clientele to finance their addiction. Heerlen was a place that disillusioned youngsters either left or went to to dope up. (Ironically, the main supply of heroin was the Nato Airbase north of the city, brought in to bring jobs.)


The last decade, the city fought it’s way back and investing in leisure paid off by getting a lot of visitors and winning the world cup of Tourism. A new ambition that builds upon some of the larger service institutions and universities in the city is the Smart Service Campus. Here science and business should build the smart services of tomorrow. Combining Business Intelligence and Big Data (The Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics, CBS, resides in Heerlen) with entrepreneurship and design.

Dreams or soon to be reality?

Of course in this equation startups are very important. Startups are the kings and queens of job creation as opposed to big institutions like pension funds and government agencies. The Brightlands Smart Service Campus is a great leap forward for the city and the wider region. Still we feel it has been largely a top-down process where big institutions and big corporations fit right in, but startups need more than a fancy office and acces to some perks. Not to downplay these new pull-factors, but to show the difference with the place where we are heading: Boulder, Colorado.

Boulder Thesis

Made famous by Brad Feld, founder of Techstars and specialist in building startup communities and eco-systems, as an example of a place where all involved played the right role to create an exciting and successful ecosystem for startups. Some famous startups include: Sendgrid, One Riot & Foundry Group.

In his book Feld puts together a thesis from various experiences from around the world, but especially from Boulder. In short it boils down to this:

* Entrepreneurs, and only entrepreneurs, should lead a startup community
* The leaders must have a long-term commitment
* The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
* The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.


In 2014 the Kaufmann foundation collected empirical evidence for this thesis. in the paper by: Yasuyuki Motoyama Jared Konczal Jordan Bell-Masterson Arnobio Morelix titled: Think Locally, Act Locally

  • Building a Robust Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. Includes key findings that Local information exchange, influence and culture is leading for entrepreneurs.
  • Not all entrepreneurs are equal, so different programs and environments cater different groups.
  • There is a high demand for peer based learning.
Thx to: http://sachachua.com/blog/2012/10/sketchnotes-startup-communities-and-entrepreneurial-ecosystems/ (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada license.


Boulder is a relatively small city (population: 100k) with a large city nearby: Denver (population: 4mln). Heerlen is in an area with a population of 4 mln, with several cities, the biggest being Liege with 500K, Brussels and Cologne are only one hour drive away.

Boulder has a University and research institutions. Heerlen has two: the Open University (OU) and the University of Applied Science, and several more in it’s vicinity, the most well known one begin RWTH in Aachen, across the German border only 5 miles from Heerlen, recognized as one of the best polytechnical universities of Europe.

Both Heerlen and Boulder are young cities and both grew out of a sudden interest in mining. For Heerlen it was coal, for Boulder gold. We assume this must have some effects that might be quite similar.

We thought it would be a great idea to get on a plane and visit Boulder during the Boulder Startup week to get a hands on experience of the startup eco system and find out if and how we could emulate, iterate and build upon this idea of a bottom-up startup ecosystem outside of hotbeds like Silicon Valley or metropolises like NYC.

If you care to reach out to us please do so!!

Left to right: Egid, Mark, Tom, Bart, Kay, Gerard & Peter (kneeling).

We are:

Disclaimer ;-)

We know Europe and the USA are quite different in a lot of aspects. Especially government regulations and business culture where failing is not easily forgiven. We are aware of this and I personally always bring to mind the story Alexis de Tocqueville on his travels to the young United States. He writes about the different approaches to solving the problem of a log across the road. Where the French citizens would call the nobleman for help, the Americans would gather the troops to decide how they would clear the way. A telling tale we think bares truth. We like to see ourselves as a group not just talking about how to bring back the city and region to greatness, but go there and find out!