Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and fueled by leaders and social hubs such as Micah Baldwin, Tech Stars mentor, #followfriday creator and now chief community caretaker at Graphic.ly of Digital X, and Robert Reich, the founder of Boulder/Denver Tech Meet-up, Boulder’s startup community is pumping, even in the midst of recession.
Boulder is the home of Blue Mountain cards, one of the first successful online greeting cards websites. In the 1990s, Fortune 1,000 tech companies popped up all over the Western prairie between Boulder and Denver. Since then, Boulder’s creative, crunchy, beautiful mountain environment has nurtured a self-supporting startup tech ecosystem.
We already wrote about Boulder in our Never Mind the Valley series, and recently had the chance to visit the city and lunch with four of the region’s startups. Here is what we found.
RWW’s Never Mind the Valley series:
The Boulder startup community, continues to be a supportive, passionate community with talented individuals, inspired ideas that is affecting change politically and economically in the United States. Lunching with four startups that Micah Baldwin organized was like lunching with a family. The group we talked with share office space, mentor each other and talk proudly of each others ideas and accomplishments.
The Underground Rail Road
Attracting talent is foundational to any startup environment. Eric Marcoullier, co-founder of Gnip described the “underground railroad” of transients that have made their way from Silicon Valley to Boulder. “Weekly I would get emails asking about what Boulder was like. Eventually I just started telling people to come here, visit and ask the locals themselves,” he said. Venture capitalists have also made their way from busy Silicon Valley to the Boulder Valley.
Affecting Change – The Startup Visa Act
Once you have the foundation of talented motivated individuals, ideas flow. Brad Feld of TechStars took the idea for a national startup visa bill and made it a reality. TechStars receives proposals from all over the world. Startups based in foreign countries come on tourist visas with great ideas – and potential jobs are being sent home with them. The startup bill seeks to change this. The bill will enable companies that do not have U.S. citizen or resident status, but who have blessed by at least $100,000 in VC investment, to start their companies in the United States.
The four thought-provoking, pioneering startups we met with had had nothing but positive things to say about TechStars and starting a business in Boulder. Each had a unique story; two of them were locals and all of them men.
Eric Marcoullier, co-founder of Gnip, launched two years ago with the unique idea of providing data collection and analysis of social signals across multiple social websites to help companies improve their product and service experience. The Gnip platform and service bridges the gap between the data APIs between large companies and multiple social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Post Rank. ReadWriteWeb has covered Gnip extensively. Since its launch, Gnip has changed its technology strategy and will be re-launching soon.
Natty Zola and Nate Abbott spent one year sleeping on couches as they traveled across five continents before they came up with the concept for Everlater. Everlater allows travelers to easily record and share their travel experiences through Twitter and Facebook. The platform allows users to use data from across multiple photo sharing sites. People can also publish their travel “scrapbooks”. An algorithm lays out the book automatically so you don’t have to. For hopeless photo organizers like me, this is a godsend!
Next Big Sound
Alex White, co-founder Next Big Sound, provides cultural analytics specifically to music companies. Music professionals can track how fans interact with their music, or music from many musicians across sites such as MySpace and LastFM. It is currently developing a premium service.
Micah Baldwin is not only social hub-connector extraordinaire, but also works for the uniquely cool comic book community Graphic.ly. Graphic.ly, which is currently in private beta, hopes to open opportunities for comic book creators, publishers and enthusiasts that are currently suffering under a one distributor model – as well as reawaken America’s and the world’s love for online comics. Members can both purchase and discuss comic books on Graphic.ly.
Ties to the Universities
Startup’s ties with Colorado universities are immature, but starting to materialize. The morning of our lunch someone from the Colorado startup community (who we promised not to name) had met with the University of Colorado. As the individual put it, “Universities are turning out graduates prepped for a traditional computer science career at the likes of Lockheed Martin. We don’t need MBAs – we need coders.” The local Universities are overlooking careers in startups that are based – literally – around the corner or down from “The Hill” as a viable career option. An exception, University of Colorado Law School is has been offering startups free legal advice in exchange for student experience.
Judging from the close-knit group of entrepreneurs we saw, Boulder has matured significantly since the dot-com boom and bust. The only thing lacking at lunch was more estrogen.