How to start a startup community: Venture capitalist shares advice

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Brad Feld

Startup communities can exist anywhere, not just Silicon Valley or Boulder. But entrepreneurs have to lead what likely will be a long-term effort and welcome anyone who wants to become involved, according to a venture capitalist who literally wrote the book on the subject.

Brad Feld outlined what he considers four critical principles for establishing startup communities during his keynote presentation at the inaugural Techstars Startup Week West Slope in Grand Junction.

Feld’s presentation was among a total of 40 offered over the course of two days at an event designed to bring together entrepreneurs from across Western Colorado to learn about starting and growing ventures as well as network and collaborate.

Feld serves as managing director of Techstars and co-founder of the Foundry Group, which invests in technology companies throughout the United States and Canada. An entrepreneur and early stage investor since 1987, Feld also co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and, prior to that, Intensity Ventures.

The list of books he’s written includes one titled “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecoystem in Your City.” Feld said he based the book in part on his experiences in Boulder and what can serve as a template of sorts for other cities.

Every city need a startup community, Feld said, to promote business and job growth as well as innovation.

Some important principles are involved, though, in forming and sustaining a startup community, he said.

It takes a critical mass of entrepreneurs willing to leading the efforts, Feld said. He distinguishes between what he calls leaders and feeders — those who play an equally important role in supporting efforts, but not a leadership role.

It also takes a long-term perspective and commitment of 20 years or more to get through what’s likely to be the ups and downs of the process, he said.

Feld encouraged participants in the Techstars Startup Week West Slope event to try a thought exercise in which they recall everything that’s happened in their cities over the past 30 years — from a vantage point 30 years in the future. It’s a way, he said, of envisioning a path forward as if it were a foregone conclusion.

Establishing a startup community also depends on an inclusive effort that involves anyone who wants to engage in the process — everyone from employees, investors and researchers to government officials, lawyers and students.

Different kinds of people bring different approaches to solving problems and, as a result, come up with better solutions, he said. “As a startup community, welcome them in. Make that an advantage.”

The fourth principle, Feld said, is schedule events and activities that encourage people to become involved in the startup community.

The more that’s offered, the more opportunities there are to promote engagement and, in turn, leadership. “You actually want to have too many things rather than not enough.”