Notes from Brad Feld’s Presentation in Toronto on Building Startup Communities

Last night, Brad Feld spoke to a packed room of people from Toronto’s tech, social media and entrepreneurial scene at the Toronto Reference Library about building startup communities. Here are my notes from his presentation:

  • I moved to Boulder in 1995
  • It turns out that when you’re constantly criss-crossing the US, living in the middle of the country works out well
  • My wife and there came there because we liked it – we didn’t know anyone there
  • I started to get engaged with Boulder entrepreneurial community
  • For those of you who aren’t familiar with Boulder, it’s very much a hippie town, with the creative class and counterculture
  • University makes for 25 – 30% of the population
  • Lots of smarts engineers, no management or sales talent
  • Started to reflect on his journey from 95 on
  • By 2010, Boulder recognized as a great startup community
  • Done without promotion
  • Cofounded Techstars in 2006
  • Founded Founders Group in 2007
  • My book is based on four principles
  • My publisher wanted these principles to be given a name, and they suggested “the Boulder Thesis”
  • It’s their contribution to the content of the book

The Four Principles:

1. The startup community has to be led by entrepreneurs

  • Separate the world into 2 categories: leaders and feeders
  • Both are critically important; they’re just different
  • Feeders can’t lead
  • Leaders don’t have to be entrepreneurs; just a critical mass of them
  • Feeders can have individuals who have leadership roles
  • It’s the difference between a network and a hierarchy
  • Startups are inherently networked
  • Feeders tend to be hierarchical organizations
  • “The intersection of hierarchies and networks is not very pleasant”
  • They can have constructive relationships together, but they are different things

2. You have to make a long-term commitment

  • It’s a generational thing: about 20 years
  • The generational view continues far into the future
  • Most other organizations don’t run on cycles this long
  • 2 to 4 years is not long enough for an entrepreneurial company
  • In 2008, the global economic crisis was a disaster to many people, but not to entrepreneurs in Boulder
  • “Who here watches CNN? Turn that shit off!”
  • To an entrepreneur, the US election is just entertainment

3. You have to be inclusive of anyone who wants to engage, at any level

  • Yes, it means you’ll let in bad actors
  • The startup organism rejects bad actors in the end
  • It’s not a zero-sum game – we’re so far from saturating that there’s room for everyone; startups are such a small part of the business ecosystem

4. You have to have activities and events that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack across the board

  • Accelerators, Startup Weekend, a regular cadence of activities, all together and continually
  • Anyone who wants to participate should be able to
  • You don’t have to get permission or a licence: you just start it!
  • There’s a philosophy deeply rooted in the Boulder community: “Give before you get”
  • It’s the difference between being an advisor and being a mentor
  • Advisor: “I will help you in exchange for something”
  • Mentor: “How can I help you?”
  • Everyone has something to offer…everyone can be a mentor
  • In Boulder, people give more than they get in the short run, but they end up getting more than they give
  • If you want to build a long-term viable ecosystem, make sure that there’s a critical mass of entrepreneurs leading
  • It’s not a zero-sum game; everyone benefits!

3 replies on “Notes from Brad Feld’s Presentation in Toronto on Building Startup Communities”

Thanks for doing this summary.
Brad has honoured us (my co-author and I) by doing the forward for our new book.
I would like to invite you to my LinkedIn network.

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