Nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills is an unlikely — yet booming — startup ecosystem.
At first glance, Boulder, Colorado may not appear to offer many advantages to small businesses. The city, which counts just over 100,000 residents, is probably better known as a counter-cultural enclave.
Still, with its wealth of tech resources, Boulder is nurturing more than just “cannabusinesses.” In fact, a recent report from research firm Compass named the city as a runner-up on its list of the top global startup ecosystems. The report scored the city based on factors like funding, market reach, and the rate of exit growth (where Silicon Valley unsurprisingly ranked first).
“It’s always been hard to secure a job in Boulder because a lot more people want to live here than the existing economy can support. That’s why the baristas and window washers all have masters degrees,” explains advertising mogul (and Boulder native) Alex Bogusky.
Bogusky is also a co-founder of the Boulder-based startup program, Boomtown Accelerators. “For a long time, the only way to have a decent job has been to create that job. Because of that, Boulder is entrepreneurial at its core,” he explains.
As recently as 2013, Boulder was found to have the highest density of tech startups nationwide, according to a report from the Kauffman Foundation. It even housed twice as many companies per capita as San Jose, Calif., the No. 2 hub. Bogusky notes that the food and advertising sectors have long reined supreme in the Colorado ecosystem.
Kickfurther, a crowd-funding platform which purchases inventory for startups, is one Boulder-based startup that is reaping the city’s benefits. Founder Sean De Clercq elected to leave his native New Jersey in 2014, when Kickfurther was accepted into the Boomtown program.
“Talent is a lot cheaper here,” says De Clercq “All of our expenses are 20 percent lower than they would be [in New York,] and that includes what we would have to pay developers.” Currently, Kickfurther counts four full-time employees, and has about 85 businesses registered on its platform. It has successfully funded as much as $40,000 worth of inventory for a single business.
Although Kickfurther declined to discuss its revenues, De Clercq says that he’s presently in talks with investors to raise a sizable funding round.
Here’s a quick look at why small business owners are laying their hats — and hiking gear — in this rapidly advancing Western hub:
1. Access to startup resources, tech behemoths.
Boulder is home to the startup incubator Techstars, which has a presence in 18 locations worldwide, including New York City and London. The accelerator selectively funds small businesses, doling $118,000 worth of seed investment for 7 to 10 percent equity in the companies. Other perks offered include free office space, and the opportunity to connect with influential members of the business community. On average, startups incubated through Techstars go on to raise more than $2 million from third parties.
Boomtown Accelerators is another notable incubator. “One of the big things that Boomtown did was that it connected us with people we needed to speak to,” says De Clercq. When the company needed legal advice, Boomtown introduced them to a Denver-based lawyer, who helped them free of charge.
Small though Boulder may be, there are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs to make valuable connections in the community. New Tech Colorado now has over 10,000 members, with hundreds attending its monthly meet-ups in Boulder. In fact, there’s almost always a waiting list for the event. Other regular meet-ups include StartupWeekend, StartupWeek, Ignite Boulder, Mobile Monday, Boulder is For Robots, TEDx Boulder, and Entrepreneurs Unplugged — to name just a few.
It doesn’t hurt that cemented tech companies like IBM and Oracle also have offices in Boulder, because they serve as “talent magnets.”