David Brown, co-founder and former CEO of Techstars, a business accelerator and venture capital firm, is now teaching Computer Science students at CU Boulder how to turn their ideas into products and companies.
"I want the students to learn entrepreneurship. Whether they create viable companies or not, the process of building a business is one that's surprising to a lot of students and it's applicable to whatever field they end up in," Brown said.
The two-semester capstone course, based on Brown's experience as a venture investor, requires intensive work on the part of the students to craft a powerful business proposal.
One of his students, Shreyaan Arora (CompSci'23), said he appreciated Brown's entrepreneurial spirit. "I think he's someone who embodies that spirit and instills it in the students through his teaching," Arora said.
Brown's positivity and openness also stood out to Arora. "He never wanted to use his power and understanding to make anyone feel lesser than, he always believes in you," Arora said.
A history of entrepreneurship
Brown has never had a job interview. After a single government internship in college as a computer science major, he was hired by his internship manager for a position at the manager’s side-company. Since then, he’s never looked back.
"I'm 59 and my life has been wonderful. I feel incredibly happy every day," Brown said.
After starting a variety of companies, Brown co-founded Techstars with David Cohen, Brad Feld and pre-Gov. Jared Polis with the goal of giving back to the entrepreneurship community through providing connections between innovators and funders. The company has a $96 billion dollar all-time accelerator portfolio market cap.
Two years ago, Brown stepped down as the CEO of Techstars, where he remains as a board member, and decided to pursue another passion—teaching.
A future in teaching
What Brown sees as the power of computer science students is their technical expertise to understand a project's feasibility. Still, they have to learn how to pitch their projects confidently and to effectively explain the business sense of their proposals.
Brown said if you have an idea, the time to make it happen is now.
"I don't believe in telling students to have a 'real job' for a few years and then shift into entrepreneurship. If you have the idea, you’re already used to eating instant noodles, so go for it." he said.
Annikka Turmala (CompSci'23), another student in Brown's class, said the class sequence changed her perspective on what was possible with her degree.
"I think before coming into this class, sure, I knew how to code, but I had no idea that I could actually make a business. I learned to trust myself and to come out of this with something that I could run with. It feels amazing and it's reinvigorated my passion for computer science." Turmala said.
For students interested in pursuing an idea, Brown recommends figuring out what skills, networks and opportunities are needed to succeed and then to go for it.
To fill in the blanks in your personal skill-set, he said to consider taking an entrepreneurship class or getting involved with one of CU Boulder’s many business challenges, hubs and networking opportunities.