Boulder entrepreneurs unleashed: 8 ways to be a leader

David Cohen and Brad Feld at BSW12

Suzan Bond | Instagram

Do you want to make a difference in the Boulder community as an entrepreneur? How about in whatever community you are living and working in right now (it doesn’t just have to be Boulder!)?

Our Colorado communities are looking for leaders, yes even a savvy start-up city like Boulder can always use new leaders. This was the message brought to a packed, standing-room-only crowd at Boulder TechStars headquarters by angel investor David Cohen and Brad Feld, Managing Director of the Foundry Group, who teamed up to co-found the mentorship-driven seed stage startup accelerator program.

Cohen and Feld who have invested in and mentored a large cadre of successful start-up businesses had a list of eight ways new entrepreneurs can become leaders in the community.

Please note this is a summary of a list of notes I quickly jotted down during the event on my iPod and there may be a slight amount of creative license taken in the eight titles. I believe I’ve adequately digested and presented the thoughts of Feld and Cohen concisely, however, you are welcome to contact them and confirm it!

1. Promote Boulder (or your city) and do it authentically.

As Feld says, do it in a real way when telling potential clients where you are from by, “telling stories of people doing crazy and amazing things.”

Its the real stories that people can associate and connect with. Let people know you are from Boulder and proud of it. It IS the start-up capital of the U.S.!

2. Develop a Sustained Culture of Mentorship

Every successful business start-up has had great mentors. If your community isn’t fostering a culture of mentorship it makes it incredibly hard for new entrepreneurs and companies to get their feet on the ground.

In my personal experience I can tell you that Boulder is the most collaborative and mentor driven community I have ever experienced. Feld and Cohen also encouraged the new start-up founders and entrepreneurs in the audience to be mentors as well. It is imperative we all give back in whatever way we can even if we don’t think we are “successful enough” or “have enough time”.

3. Join Startup Colorado and Startup America

As Feld shared, “its free.” There are a variety of resources you can find to help launch your business through both organizations and at the same time it provides the government with resources to see what types of businesses are growing across Colorado and the U.S. as a whole.

4. Connect People

Be a part of connecting businesses in your community and bringing in new ideas, individuals and companies from across the country. By growing your business and bringing in new ideas and employees from other areas you add to the intellectual capital of your community. Feld and Cohen do this by investing financially in companies in the area but also through organizations like TechStars which brings in brilliant minds from across the country, many of whom fall in love with Boulder who put down roots and stay.

5. Look for Gaps and Get the Word Out

If you want to be a leader in your community, look for gaps in what is currently being offered to other businesses and entrepreneurs. Just as a business look for fresh service areas, we can do the same in our community. Perhaps there is a need to better connect the developers in your community.

One such example of someone I know personally who is filling a gap is Alon Katz, a developer from Boulder who is currently in the process of developing the Boulder Developer Collaborative. He saw a need to bring software developers and designers together in the community to take on worthwhile projects, learn from one another and act as a clearinghouse to help members get paid projects. Find a community gap and fill it!

Cohen also shared in the discussion how important it is for companies and entrepreneurs to get the word out about what they are doing. Go to meetups, build a network and tell others what it is you are doing. If you are afraid to share, even your ideas that are less than stellar, you are in the wrong business being a start-up. Get in a habit to share what you are doing with EVERYONE.

6. Be Downtownish

Downtown is the place to be, especially in Boulder. Feld shared that if you are a small start-up you almost have to be downtown. There is a certain entrepreneurial density that occurs when so many startups are all clustered together that creates a growing pulse of creative and financial energy. Palo Alto, California, is another example of this trend as all of the major startups and entrepreneurs are all clustered together in a tech community. Boulder is very much the same in this manner.

7. Be Committed

Cohen asked the participants to raise their hands if they wanted to be leaders in the entrepreneurial community. He then followed it up by having the crowd keep their hands up if they planned to be in the community in 20 years. Feld added that even if its not 20 years, “you need to look long-term.” Real leaders are committed to the community over an extended period of time.

8. Build an Amazing Company Here

One of the biggest ways to be an entrepreneurial leader is to build an amazing company here in the community. By building that company to success you add to the entrepreneurial density, intellectual capital and notoriety of the community.

Bonus Point: When You Have Success Give Back to Success

Last but certainly not least, the theme of the program, and really of start-up week is that when you have a level of success it is important to give back to the community. Cohen and Feld encouraged businesses to get involved with not only each other but the community as a whole.

One way businesses can help each other is by sharing space and simply giving to those who need it. If you have extra space, give it to a business that needs it and don’t ask for anything in return. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but by helping grow other businesses who also feed money and intellect back into the community which in return helps those giving in the first place.

An example in Boulder of this concept in action is the Trada Codespace.

Trada, the world’s first and only crowdsourced online advertising services marketplace, had a lot of extra space at their headquarters so they decided to offer it free to members of the tech community. Beyond dedicated areas for a few select companies there is a community space that anyone can use during business hours.

Other ways for businesses to give back to the community include engaging government and quasi-government organizations such as Downtown Boulder Inc., and the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado.