I’d like to start a conversation about business growth, specifically about the Boulder Thesis of startup communities. A couple weeks ago, I was invited as a volunteer with the Vail Leadership Institute to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Economic Development District bi-monthly meeting. I focused my time with them discussing some of the Boulder Thesis of entrepreneurial communities.
The thesis starts by looking at why Boulder has, in the last 15 years, gone from a third tier to a world-renowned startup community. One of the main reasons forms a fundamental principle of the thesis: People should meet often and collaborate freely. It may seem overly simplistic, but in this age of electronic communication, telecommuting and home offices, entrepreneurs have to constantly be aware of creeping isolation. Meeting people and getting to know each other’s lives, hopes, desires, strengths and weaknesses, fosters innovation. More innovation leads to more execution, which leads to community growth.
An illustration of the second part of this principle — collaboration — is well illustrated from a study that tried to work out why Silicon Valley vastly outpaced Route 128 on the East Coast for startups and large software companies in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A key factor to Silicon Valley’s success was the difference in a single legal theory. In California, non-compete contracts are almost always illegal, whereas they were common in the Route 128 region. When the employees and executives were free of constraints of non-compete agreements they were able to move between Apple, Google, HP and a thousand other little companies. The culture became one of collaboration, shared dialogue and shared ideas. The result was an explosion of ideas, products and processes that lifted up the entire region.
Boulder achieves an incredible amount of collaboration through the almost fanatical dedication of the culture to considering itself a community of entrepreneurs, rather than individual companies. Any night you can go to a lecture by a Google executive, a new-tech meetup, an Ignite event or a no-agenda-meeting breakfast, plus myriad other events. Competitors will sit together, people without jobs will create new companies, good employees with bad employers will create relationships and people will have a lot of fun. In the end, good things happen.
How does this tie in to the meeting I attended? First, I was amazed at how many different agencies were dedicated to helping and collaborating to give our region resources. The access to capital, education and other resources is simply greater than I had thought. Then on Friday Gov. Hickenlooper came to Colorado Mountain College in Edwards to discuss economic development and the Colorado Blueprint. One of the major points in the Blueprint is better collaboration, which leads to new ideas, more talent and better access to capital. Sound familiar?
ENCOURAGING LOCAL COLLABORATION
The Vail Valley already has a society that is entrepreneurial by nature with multiple local organizations working towards facilitating collaboration. The Vail Valley Partnership, the Vail Leadership Institute, the upcoming New Tech Meetup, the standing Eagle entrepreneurs’ circle, and the new co-working space called BaseCamp (where I am writing this) all add to a solid foundation for encouraging a more collaborative community.
Add in the resources from government, a culture where people are open to discuss new ideas and new thoughts, a talented work pool, an incredible number of world class mentors and a wealthy society willing to participate and you can begin to understand how well positioned the Vail Valley community is to begin using the good ideas of the Boulder Thesis and creating an independent and lively entrepreneurial community here.
How do we turn these assets into value? We need more people talking. As Woody Allen said, “80 percent of life is showing up.” If this is interesting to you, seek out an event from one of the above organizations, make an effort to meet another entrepreneurial soul in our community for a no-agenda meeting, get out from behind your computer and see where it goes.
You may have to give up an event at the Vilar Performing Arts Center, a couple hours of solid turns on the slopes, possibly a Taco Tuesday or trivia night, but when no one does something, nothing gets done.
But hey, what do I know?