Startup Phenomenon conference seeks to define entrepreneurial spirit that fuels startups

By: Steve Friday November 15, 2013 0 comments Tags: Boulder, Brad Feld, Carrie Van Heyst, Galvanize, Jim Collins, Jim Deters, Van Heyst Group

By Steve Porter


BOULDER - Startup companies thrive when they are part of a vibrant network of other startups that steer away from a hierarchical structure, according to Brad Feld, author of "Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City" and an organizer of Startup Phenomenon, a three-day conference in Boulder that ends today.

Feld, who helped organize the first-time event with Carrie Van Heyst, CEO of Van Heyst Group, said Thursday that the beauty of startups is that they don't rely on a hierarchical system to carry them forward.

Feld said the last several years have seen the rise of the startup network community and the fall of the hierarchy, especially following the recent economic meltdown.

"This notion of hierarchy is breaking down," he said. "The startup community is not a meritocracy based on merit but a 'do-aucracy' based on doing.

"There's no president of the Boulder startup community. Stuff happens like crazy, but there's no hierarchical arrangement around it."

Feld said startup communities can happen anywhere but need to follow four basic principles: They must be led by entrepreneurs; those entrepreneurs must take a very long-term view of success; they must be inclusive; and they must have activities and events that engage people on an ongoing basis.

"There is nobody controlling it," he said. "It's an organic phenomenon created by entrepreneurs."

Feld said institutions like governments and the media keep asking how the success of the startup community can be measured, reducing progress to a quarterly assessment.

"It's not the right question to be asking," he said. "This is not a straight line. You'll have years when it goes backward or appears to go away, but that's OK. It's messy."

Feld noted that some entrepreneurs who lost their jobs with hierarchical organizations during the recent recession have been going back to those systems as the economy has recovered, and he said that's to be expected.

"But the ones who are passionate about creating their own companies are going to stick it out," Feld said.

The Startup Phenomenon conference got underway Wednesday at the St. Julien Hotel in downtown Boulder, with participants attending from across the globe.

Part of Thursday's panels and presentations included reports from internationally-based startup communities in Israel, New Zealand, Great Britain, China, Canada and Russia.

Other panels focused on how startups can attract financing, the role of corporations in startup communities and addressing the brain drain caused by U.S. immigration policies that drastically annually limit the number of potentially gifted foreign entrepreneurs who could be helping spur more American innovation.

A highlight of Thursday's activities included an interview by Feld of Jim Collins, lecturer and author of books that include "Built to Last" and "Good to Great."

Collins said one of the key aspects of a successful startup community like Boulder is in attracting the right people to move it forward.

"A lot of people come here but they could go anywhere," he said. "Building any great organization begins with who are the right people.

"If you get a critical mass of the right people, all kinds of wonderful things can happen."

Startup Phenomenon concludes today (Nov. 15) with presentations on food innovation, biotech startups, innovation for a cause, Colorado's focus on innovation and a closing keynote address by Jim Deters, co-founder and managing director of Galvanize startup incubator in Denver.

Photo Gallery

About the Author: Steve