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June 30, 2017

The Boulder Thesis in Adelaide

It used to be believed that if you wanted to start a tech company, you had to move to Silicon Valley, especially if you were going to need to raise money to fund your startup.  Now you can start a tech company anywhere with a decent internet connection and startup communities are growing almost everywhere in the world.
I’ve heard Brad Feld say many times that he believes a startup community can be built in any city and that the future of cities depends on these startup communities.   He’s even written a book on the idea called Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.
I was living in Boulder when Brad moved to town from Boston, and I’ve seen his commitment to this idea first hand.  As the startup community grew in Boulder and became known beyond Colorado, he began getting questions from other communities about how they could duplicate Boulder’s success.  Here’s the thing though - no one can duplicate Boulder, any more than Boulder could duplicate Silicon Valley.  A community has to create their own version of success -  but there are lessons to be learned from Boulder.  
Brad developed what he calls the Boulder Thesis and you’ll find it explained in Chapter Three of the book, but here is the latest version that I could find online as Brad has evolved it over the years.
The Boulder Thesis by Brad Feld
  • Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
  • The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
  • The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
  • The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.
I moved to Adelaide, South Australia just over a year ago, and one of the many surprises I discovered was how many people knew about Boulder, and not just because of Mork and Mindy.  Startup people especially knew that Boulder was supposed to be a great place to create a company but they were usually surprised to hear that Boulder’s population is only about a 100,000 people and that’s counting the students at the University of Colorado.
So if Boulder, a city 1/10 the size of Adelaide can do it, why not Adelaide?  Well, of course, Adelaide can do it!  In fact, Adelaide has been doing it for years, but another thing Brad likes to say is you have to take a twenty-year view of the future, and that’s starting today.
I’ve found Adelaide to be a wonderful place to live and I can see startup founders not only growing up here, but people moving here to start their company.  We can certainly support the founders we already have so they don’t feel the need to go to Sydney, or Boulder or Silicon Valley.  That’s not a knock on any of those places, but if you have limited startup capital and a limited network of people, why spend any of that moving somewhere else?
The first two points of the Boulder Thesis are pretty easy really.  Entrepreneurs invest a little time outside of their own bubble giving back to the community and helping others.  Of course, the lawyers, accountants and government people are going to be working alongside, but the leaders have to be the founders themselves.  And you can’t just think about the next six months like we often do in a startup; you have to take the long view.
Being inclusive is harder, because not only do you have to go against stereotypes about what a startup founder looks like, you also have to work to include people who by definition are new, inexperienced and not connected to the network.  It can’t become a club of just the most successful or oldest community members.  Growing networks always beat exclusive networks.
The last point about having continual activities seems to be happening here in Adelaide too.  According to Josh Garratt, the Chairman of the Coworking South Australia Association, Adelaide has 28 coworking spaces.  That’s  the highest number per capita in Asia.  That right there is going to guarantee that something is happening for startups every day of the week, but there can always be more.  When I was involved in Startup Longmont, a town just up the road from Boulder, I encouraged anyone who wanted to create an event to just do it.  No permission required, and no worries about competing with someone else’s event, even mine.  The most interesting and helpful events will thrive and the rest will evolve or die after they’ve served their purpose, and that’s OK.
A lesson I learned in Longmont was that we, the startup community, had to always be reminding people about how great the community really was because some people both inside and outside the community just wanted to complain about what wasn't right.  If we complained about the lack of angels and VCs or that Boulder was farther along than we were, it just hurt our community.  We changed the language from saying we were “just a little country town” to being proud of where we lived while working hard to make it even better.  That’s happening here in Adelaide, and I’m very happy to be a small part of the movement.

June 30, 2017 | Permalink