The Union of Town and Gown

University of Colorado at Boulder and Boulder, Colo.


University of Colorado at Boulder and Boulder, Colo.
City population:
103,100
CU-Boulder student population: 29,709
University employees: 6,902
Metro area small businesses: 9,708
Nearest major airport: Denver International (41 miles)

In the early '90s, this area had a prevalence of federal labs and a heavily wired location with a high density of people with software expertise," says Brad Bernthal, an advisor for the Silicon Flatirons entrepreneurship group. "Those ingredients allowed Boulder to take off." But the community and the university recognized that they needed a strong backbone to support fledgling businesses. They developed a university-led infrastructure, including a monthly meet-up hosted by Silicon Flatirons that serves as the nerve center for the Boulder tech scene. The Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the university's Leeds School of Business hosts cleantech and greentech networking events. A new focus on teaching entrepreneurship to engineering students is part of the effort to help persuade startups to stick around. Says Bernthal, "In five years, I see this scene in the top three nationally, and on a short list internationally as the best place to start a tech company."

The New College Try
Jason Mendelson is a venture capitalist with Foundry Group in Boulder and serves on the Deming Center's advisory board.

What does Boulder have that other universities don't?
Boulder is uniquely situated in having a great entrepreneurial scene where people want things to be better. Everyone feels they own the success and failures if they don't do a good job helping one another.

Is the university an integral part of the entrepreneurial scene?
We haven't found anybody who wasn't incredibly impressed with what the university is doing. Any time entrepreneur groups have asked the university for help, they always get a yes.

What's the next step?
My hope is that the entrepreneur spirit and ecosystem is expanded to younger and younger people.

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Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.

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This article was originally published in the October 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Union of Town and Gown.

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