Friday was a great day!
Breakfast at Colorado College. Presentations from a couple of great startups, including my friend Ian Lee at Engage Social Media Applications. Fantastic weather here in Colorado Springs. And the indomitable Brad Feld. Wayne wrote a great article about the morning, so go check it out.
Lunch was hosted by UCCS and El Pomar and featured a panel of investors and entrepreneurs: Jan Horsfall of Gelazzi, Jeff Cooper of New Venture Resources, Bill Miller of PV Strategies (former chairman of XAware), and Brad Feld of Foundry Group, TechStars, etc. 40 or so business and community leaders were in attendance to hear the panel’s thoughts on capital flow in our region. I’ll try to summarize that discussion in another post.
Afterward, my friends Tucker Wannamaker and Marcus Haggard from Magneti Marketing grabbed 15 or so young entrepreneurs and a couple of city government representatives (thanks Brandy and Donna!) for beer with Brad at The ModBo, in the center of the arts alley district downtown. After checking out his really cool video, we asked him a bunch of questions.
One of the best questions: “Instead of trying to attract venture capital, how do we really improve the culture of entrepreneurship in Colorado Springs?” Brad’s answer was straight forward: “Go out and do $#!%” But it has to have the following four elements in order to succeed.
- Entrepreneurs must lead the activity, not government, not non-profits, not even venture capitalists or other money guys. Real, tested entrepreneurs. And 5 or 10 of them need to be visible, outspoken leaders.
- You must take a 20 year view from today (not from 15 years ago). One day, you’ll wake up and realize the system has hit critical mass and the same 5 or 10 people aren’t leading everything anymore. That’s a good day.
- Measure in terms of relative growth (year over year) not absolute growth. Commit to starting more new companies next month than you do this month, for example.
- Embrace and engage everyone. If anyone (especially entrepreneurs!) wants to get involved, find something for them to do. Don’t judge them, make them prove themselves, segregate them, exclude them, defend your own territory, or any of that other unnecessary junk. Just accept them and put them to work (real work). Flakes will find their own way out and the sneakier actors will get pushed out by the system as a whole. Worry more about having a reputation for accepting and working with entrepreneurs.
While all that sounds nice, Brad, have you seen Colorado Springs? We’ve got the “good ol’ boys” to deal with. We can’t just go out and do $#!% because they probably already have a committee for that $#!%. They don’t like people messing with their $#!% without first consulting the committee who will ponder it over for 2 years.
Brad suggested starting by joining their committee (remember, be inclusive) or otherwise honoring whatever system is in place. If they don’t respond well, then just go do it yourself (Brad called it being subversive). You can’t be blamed for not trying to include the establishment and one of two things will probably happen:
- Either the structure in place is just wasting time and will vaporize and your thing will takes its place, or
- They’ll quickly adopt your activities because you’ve finally brought along the real content they’ve been looking for.
And when you do your thing, just get started. Don’t find a President and a Vice President and a Vice-Vice President. Structure adds nothing of value to your activity. (We learned this doing the Springs Vision Forum with four “founders” and a bunch of random people who offered to help)
Brad also talked about celebrating the entrepreneurs in our community in a real way, not to give them big heads but because we need heroes. We need examples to raise the bar for us and visibly live out their lives and their work so we can learn from them. And then when they’re recognized, they need to humbly acknowledge that it is only because of our great community that they could be successful (and it needs to be true).
We as a community of entrepreneurs need to remember that anything that helps entrepreneurship in Colorado Springs (or even in Colorado or the United States for that matter) will help everyone. Stop fighting over who gets what credit or title. Also, get “fresh meat” into the system regularly, preferably by taking advantage of our great schools and keeping students here. Brad pointed out that Colorado Springs is far from saturated with entrepreneurial activity. Our 625k people vastly outweighs Boulder’s 225k and they’re doing ten times what we are (at least!).
That’s more than enough to get us started. Thanks Brad.
More about these folks (in case you don’t know them):
Brad Feld: Brad has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for over twenty years. Prior to co-founding Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and, prior to that, founded Intensity Ventures, a company that helped launch and operate software companies. Brad is also a co-founder of TechStars. Brad also wrote two great books that I highly recommend: Do More Faster and Venture Deals.
Peak Venture Group: Since 2000, Peak Venture Group has provided high quality events, educational seminars, mentoring, investment opportunities, and socials to literally thousands of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and executives in the Colorado Springs region. Our goal is simple: grow and strengthen Colorado Springs business community.
I’ve been on the board at PVG for a couple of years and they’ve got to be the closest group to the kind Feld was talking about in terms of supporting entrepreneurs just for the sake of improving our region. I’ve personally given away more free advice than I care to count through PVG and it’s been a great experience.