This year, I was fortunate to attend Boulder Startup Week (May 12-16, 2014), an annual celebration of all things startup-related in this beautiful Colorado mountain town. I’ve lived and worked in other startup-filled metro areas including NYC, LA, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and after living here for almost a year, I’ve discovered that Boulder has some pretty unique tech culture that isn’t typically found elsewhere (as far as I know).
Why is Boulder’s startup scene so unique? I think it’s because “giving before you receive, without having the expectation to receive” is exemplified here (for more on this check out Brad Feld’s Boulder thesis). So many companies and individuals in the community are committed to this, which I believe is why magical things happen within our startup community.
I’ll touch more on this idea of giving back to the community later in the post, but first, here’s a recap of the events I went to. I should note that I tackled a full client workload this week while fitting in events, and so I chose to prioritize attending diversity events and events on startup growth.
The first event I attended was the Startup Crawl, in which ten offices in Boulder opened up their spaces to meet and give out booze and refreshments to entrepreneurs and community members. The offices that participated: Simple Energy, ShipCompliant, Pivotal Labs, Galvanize, SendGrid, Pivot Desk, MobileDay/ Jumpcloud, Kapost, Mocavo and Slice of Lime. I didn’t get a chance to visit every office, but the ones I went to, Mobile Day/Jumpcloud, SendGrid, and Galvanize, were a blast. I loved meeting awesome new people, and walking into noisy, sometimes raucous, rooms filled with great people laughing, talking, and toasting to our work and our community.
The next event I went to was a discussion of a new book soon to be released by Foundry Press, Jane Miller’s Sleep Your Way To The Top* And Other Myths About Business Success. After holding leadership positions at food industry giants like Heinz London, PepsiCo, and more, Miller stepped in to helm Boulder’s Charter Baking Company, bakers of Rudy’s Organic and Rudy’s Gluten Free. Miller’s book, and the lively discussion, focused on the lessons she learned during her career. Miller also discussed how she became involved with Unreasonable Institute, leveraging her vast corporate management experience to help make a difference in the world. Peppered with advice and anecdotes, the talk was definitely entertaining and informative.
The next morning, I attended coffee hour/ talk on “Controversy of Diversity,” which focused on strategies for increasing diversity in technology startups. This was probably my favorite event of all of startup week. While enjoying Ozo Coffee and Bronuts, Tara Calihman and Julie Penner kicked things off, followed by Ingrid Alongi, CEO of Quick Left, who talked about the big data behind the issues and Dr. Wendy DuBow, a NCWIT research scientist, shared tips on becoming a male advocate. I learned some startling statistics about how gender inequality around technology starts super young, as girls are often conditioned to think computer science is more for boys. Over time, the numbers of women angel investors have increased, and there are more women in tech, however startup management positions are still 96% male, according to Alongi in her fantastic, statistic-filled presentation. I was inspired by Alongi’s mission and company, as well as her passion for increasing diversity in the startup tech world.
The NCWIT presentation was another highlight; DuBow said in addition to adopting gender neutral hiring language, there are specific strategies companies can do once women are on board to help them succeed alongside their male peers. This includes mentorship across gender, which I found to be a very important point and something I’ve personally benefitted from. There was also a Q&A session that included more discussion about the subtle ways startups can either encourage or discourage diversity, including creating during-work social events to avoid penalizing parents who aren’t interested in building company community at a bar, and trying to call on women during meetings, as men are still statistically more likely to speak out.
The final event I attended was “Early Stories At Big Companies,” on the final day of Boulder Startup Week. It was amazing to listen in to founders and early employees of big startups like Github, Twitter, SendGrid, and more share some lesser known stories of how they grew, challenges they faced, and how they overcame adversities. Some of the takeaways: “if you aren’t unhappy with your product when you launch, you’ve waited too long to go to market,” “take initiative and ownership of what’s important to you and the company,” “focus on what you really care about and what you’re spending your time on, and correct any misalignment on an ongoing basis,” and “don’t have an air gun fight in a parking lot outside your startup unless you want local police involvement” (you had to be there).
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I’ve been really inspired by our community’s “give before you get” mentality. Startup Week diversity events solidified my interest in helping to build community and support around a community I personally care about and am aligned with, which is why, with ally Brad Feld and other startup community members’ blessing, I’ve started Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Startup Meetup. Our group already has its first event scheduled, and is open to all. We’re also looking for a business sponsor of the meetup.com dues and possibly some events, so please drop me a line if you are or your company is interested in getting involved.
Thanks for reading my recap of Boulder Startup Week 2014! I’d love to hear in the comments if others attended these or other events and/or what your impressions were of the week.