Published: Nov. 6, 2018 By

Practitioners and academics alike have sought to answer what makes places like Silicon Valley, Route 128, and more recently smaller cities like Boulder, a hot bed for startup activity. While networks (who you know) and experience (what you know) have been factors for successful entrepreneurs, how you act is often overlooked. Here in Boulder, Brad Feld and other leaders in the startup community propose that Boulder’s success is driven by ecosystem members who #givefirst, who willingly help others without necessarily expecting a direct benefit in return.  

Recently, a group of interdisciplinary community members and academics convened in Boulder to analyze #givefirst in a first annual entrepreneurship conference and research colloquia. The purpose was to bring entrepreneurs, academics, investors, and third-party intermediaries (such as lawyers and accelerator managers) to explore the dimensions of #givefirst, the #givefirst mentality, how #givefirst affects the players within an entrepreneurial community, and conditions where #givefirst adapts within a location over time. The group explored tensions, questions, and implications for thinking about the drivers of entrepreneurial communities. We highlight critical topics necessary for anyone involved in startup activity to consider for those involved in the creation and success of entrepreneurial communities. 

Technology drives pace and access of startup activity 

Approximately 550,000 new entrepreneurs across the US start a business each month (Kauffman Index, 2016). Of those, 69% of new businesses are started at home. Technology has no doubt driven the cost of starting a business down to nothing. In addition, technology also allows tech-driven companies to scale much quicker than previously theorized. What used to require $5M in venture capital may now drop to less than $100K. Less capital needed to scale businesses translates to more companies getting funded. And…imagine the network effect. Location no longer constricts entrepreneurs to a supply of knowledgable guidance, financial resources, or human capital.  Technology has enabled startups to interact across locations, yet network connections are still stronger within a location.  

Why people #givefirst in a startup community

The critical work of Brad Bernthal, professor here at CU (read an awesome article about his own embodiment of #givefirst), explores why mentors are a critical component of investment accelerators, a cohort-based model of educational and mentorship support for early-stage startups. He proposes that mentors operate with a #givefirst mentality, where they do not expect benefit to come directly from those who they support, but rather from the entrepreneurial community as a whole. For example an investor who may mentor startups may not invest directly into his or her mentees immediately, but may instead learn about a new industry sector that have potential for investment activity.  

Who drives the creation of startup communities 

While government and dominant industry players certainly influence the success of startup activity, the #givefirst mentality is in part driven by the idea that startup communities should be “entrepreneur-centric”. Brad Feld’s Startup Communities book breaks down how entrepreneurs themselves lead the startup community. This idea has been supported in a study released by the Kauffman foundation that found entrepreneurs follow local entrepreneurs, and local networks thicken over time. 

#givefirst may not be a novel principal in everyday life, but startup activity, focused on gains, may be well served by thinking about the knee jerk instinct emphasizes “what can I give” rather than “what can I get”?

More Deming News

Erick Mueller with a group of 20 students and two high school staff during 2019 $5 Challenge

Transforming High School Education: The Impact of the $5 Challenge on Colorado Students

Erick Mueller with a group of 20 students and two high school staff celebrating the conclusion of the 2019 $5 Challenge. For nearly 20 years, Erick Mueller has strived to create a lasting positive impact for everyone interacting with the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) through entrepreneurship education provided...

RCWS Participants from Sterling Colorado
Transforming Dreams into Reality: The RCWS Journey in Sterling Colorado
Jayden Kazantsev
A Leap of Faith Decision: How Taking a Gap Semester Changed My Life
Finalists at the New Venture Challenge
CU Boulder’s Catalyst for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Through New Venture Launch and New Venture Creation