Innovation Blueprint 3.0 taps Boulder's global innovation leader potential

By: Phil Lindeman Monday October 14, 2013 0 comments Tags: Boulder, MapQuest, Neal Lurie, Photobucket, Rally Software, Startup Phenomenon, Team Boulder, TechStars

By Phil Lindeman


Team Boulder logoBOULDER -- If Boulder is a blossoming innovation ecosystem, Neal Lurie of the Boulder Chamber hopes Innovation Blueprint 3.0 is the soil, water and greenhouse.

Launched this May, the brand-new initiative was crafted by the chamber and touts support from dozens of area businesses, entrepreneurs and like-minded nonprofits. For Lurie, the goal is simple: To spur healthy, well-rounded growth and competition in a city poised to become a bonafide leader in the innovation world.

"You don't have to look far to see how important Boulder is for innovation across multiple industries," says Lurie, who acts as the chamber vice president. "It's part of a larger trend - Boulder has a great many innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs. We don't want to take that wealth of knowledge for granted."

Over the last two decades, Boulder has become a hotbed for an unlikely amalgam of industries. While most cities of 100,000 are known for two or three major industries, Boulder is home to nearly seven -- from aerospace and clean tech to natural foods and outdoor products.

Add multiple fields of research at the University of Colorado campus and the town has earned its rightful place next to now-storied innovation meccas like Seattle and Silicon Valley. This year, Boulder was No. 1 on the Kauffman Foundation's Top 10 metro areas in the U.S. for high-tech startup density.

The breadth and depth of Boulder's innovation pool is hardly groundbreaking news - it's nurtured Photobucket, Mapquest and Rally Software in the tech sector alone - but Innovation Blueprint 3.0 is the sort of ingenious idea to build on what's already in plain site, all while adding much-needed infrastructure.

As Lurie explains, the initiative was designed to boost each of Boulder's far-reaching industries. The name of the initiative's website, Team Boulder, traces back to his idea of an all-inclusive plan. This isn't made to help one industry over another - everyone is playing on the same squad with the same end goal.

Innovation Blueprint 3.0 begins with a five-part plan. For the chamber, that plan is not so much a roadmap but the titular blueprint: Each part adds to the foundation, and each can evolve to better fit changes around town, the nation and world.

It is growth in the long-term -- the sort of direction Lurie believes Boulder innovators have needed and wanted - for years.

"This is a shared vision across the community," Lurie says. "The chamber has helped move it forward, but its success relies a lot on these dedicated stakeholders. We were simply the spark to start the fire."

The first layer of the plan revolves around Boulder's business network, specifically the young, vibrant startup community. Lurie says these brilliant entrepreneurs often need support, and connecting seasoned vets to thirsty up-and-comers can spark ideas that would've gone unrealized otherwise.

Neal Lurie photo
This could include the kind of mentoring and educational programs found at incubators like Boulder's Techstars, but it doesn't need to be time-intensive for either side.

Lurie points to a portion of Startup Phenomenon 2013: In September, the local conference held the first-ever gathering solely for female entrepreneurs. No matter the layout, programs rely on the current group of innovators to foster the next generation.

Of course, convincing the finest minds to gather in one room can occasionally be a headache. The second part of the blueprint covers innovative policy plans and the occasionally fickle connection between the public and private sectors.

With enough planning, the local government and nonprofits can help bolster innovation - say, through business incentives and grant support.

"So often, communities face complex problems that require a collaborative approach," Lurie says. "We really think the Boulder Chamber can help convene the right stakeholders. The best solutions drive innovation, build value and strengthen the community, and we can do that through this plan."

Along with giving local innovators a way to connect, the initiative also addresses a few of the chamber's shortcomings. The third part is all about promotion - essentially the branding element of the overall plan, and one of the most unexpectedly difficult elements to get right.

"Not until the Blueprint process moved forward did we realize how attractive the area and workforce are," Lurie says. "We want to be more effective about explaining our innovation leadership, because if we don't, no one else will. It's 'Branding 101.'"

Although crafting a single, definitive vision for the whole of Boulder is nearly impossible - again, too many industries are involved - the Innovation Blueprint 3.0 plan itself is a good starting point.

Lurie says it has already started to cut down the "white noise" around Boulder, and along with support from nearly a dozen other entities - the chamber has already worked closely with the Boulder Economic Council, Downtown Boulder, Inc. and the Boulder Small Business Development Center - it could sell investors on the area's burgeoning businesses.

Those investors fit snugly into the plan's fourth part. The chamber hopes a dedicated innovation plan convince investors to seek out entrepreneurs and, if all goes well, convince other investors to give Boulder a try.

For Lurie, the Innovation Blueprint 3.0 saves the best for last.

Dubbed "Business Innovation HQ," the plan's final part is an all-purpose conference center, the sort Boulder has sorely needed for years. When putting together the initiative, chamber officials realized they needed a facility to host large groups.

Their inspiration was the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado Center in Denver, a LEED-certified building that houses more than 30 nonprofits, most of which focus on entirely different industries. Like Boulder, Denver has fast mastered the art of attracting bright minds from every corner of the entrepreneurial world.

"I've seen these sorts of space work up close and they're highly effective for collaboration," Lurie says. "We think it could really help our local businesses come together in a hub of innovation. It can even cut down on wasted time and energy - this could boost creativity all around."

As of now, Business Innovation HQ is years away. The chamber has worked with CU architecture students to sketch a few floorplans, but Lurie and other officials don't yet have a final plan or location. Funding for the building is also in the infant stages.
Phil Lindeman

About the Author: Phil Lindeman

Phil Lindeman is an award-winning freelance reporter with experience writing and editing for magazines, daily newspapers and websites. As a Colorado native, Phil has kept a close eye on local innovators and became intimately familiar with Northern Colorado while earning a journalism degree from Colorado State University. Phil is currently based in Vail, where he covers arts, entertainment and culture for a weekly magazine, Sneak Peak, in between wintertime laps through Vail's back bowls.