Announcing the 2014 “Entrepreneurship Games”

How does CU-Boulder's New Venture Challenge set it apart from other entrepreneurial universities?

How does CU-Boulder’s New Venture Challenge set it apart from other entrepreneurial universities?

How will the Buffs stack up against the Sun Devils?  Will the Austin innovation scene stay weirder than Boulder?  Should Bangalore University be part of conference re-alignment in 2014?  These and other questions will be addressed this year.

Yes, entrepreneurship season is finally upon us!

This, of course, is a first.  While a lot of universities claim to be entrepreneurial, very little substantive comparison of these schools occurs. This needs to be remedied.  With this in mind, CU-Boulder is pleased to play host to the inaugural Entrepreneurship Games in 2014.

Every few weeks, we pit CU-Boulder against another entrepreneurially-minded campus, compare the two schools, and invite you to learn about notable developments in university entrepreneurship. Rivals will do battle (sort of), underdogs may prevail, and boosters will (hopefully) pay – or fund – player entrepreneurs.  In the end, we hope to be left with a better idea of what successful entrepreneurial universities are doing.

We believe that a comprehensive entrepreneurial university must play three roles.

(1) The university as catalyst:  public universities’ outreach efforts must facilitate innovation by serving as a nerve center of their region’s startup community.

(2) The university as teacher:  public universities must recruit and train the next generation of entrepreneurial talent.

(3) The university as scholar and innovator:  public universities must deepen scholarly understanding around entrepreneurship and innovation, support faculty and student entrepreneurial efforts, and where possible, promote commercialization of university technology.

However, we believe that fulfilling these three roles in a vacuum is not enough. Notably, we think that public universities must facilitate the interactions and networks between these three roles. Hence, the universities participating in the Entrepreneurship Games will be encouraged to highlight efforts to create networks that span the roles of catalyst, teacher and innovator.

While we recognize that apples to apples comparison of unique universities is impossible, we hope that the Entrepreneurship Games will allow CU-Boulder to engender productive competition amongst entrepreneurial universities, accelerate information sharing, and ultimately help make entrepreneurial universities more effective and successful.

 

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Everlater: A Community Effort in Entrepreneurial Success

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CU Law’s Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, part of Silicon Flatirons’ Entrepreneurship Initiative, has assisted Front Range startups since 2000.  Among the many great entrepreneurial stories we’ve had the good fortune to assist, Everlater stands out as particularly special.

The Everlater co-founders, Nate and Natty, are originally from Boulder and they will be the first to tell you that Everlater was a community effort. Many people helped Nate and Natty as they charted a path from Wall Street, to Patagonia, to their parents basements, to TechStars, and – ultimately – to a successful acquisition by MapQuest/AOL.  Everlater is an exciting and unique story of determination and, ultimately, entrepreneurship success.  When Nate and Natty started their business they relied on Colorado Law’s Entrepreneurial Law Clinic for their startup legal needs. The legal documents that the clinical students drafted for Everlater helped them get started right.  As Everlater gained traction, the company transitioned over to professional counsel with Cooley LLP.

This video captures the essence of Nate and Natty’s story and  highlights how the Colorado Law Entrepreneurial Law Clinic was helpful in the early stages of company’s life cycle.

Warm congratulations to Nate, Natty and the full Everlater team.  We’re grateful that the ELC had an opportunity to work with you.

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Why CU-Boulder Needs to Compete in Entrepreneurship by Brad Bernthal

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For an essay on what a public entrepreneurial university might look like, please see here.

The University of Oregon recently unveiled an opulent new football performance center, which cost an estimated $68 million and features locker ventilation systems and Brazilian hardwood flooring.  No one has ever accused Nike founder and Oregon donor Phil Knight of being subtle.

This is not a judgment about how Phil Knight spends his money.  I have thoughts about that.  They are not relevant here.  This is an observation about competition.  And on this, Phil Knight has it right.  Innovation is needed to win in a competitive environment.

CU, together with Boulder, is in an entrepreneurship rivalry.   Yet we – like many universities – don’t even know who our rivals are.  Or even that we’re in a competition.   This is a problem.  As Cisco founder Sandy Lerner observes, “The first rule of any game is to know you’re in one.”

We’re in one.  The university entrepreneurship game has a lot on the line. Phil Knight sees rivalries with shoe companies and football facilities.  We need to see entrepreneurship rivalries with leading entrepreneurial universities and their surrounding startup scenes.  The University of Texas and Austin, North Carolina, NC State and the research triangle, Cal-Berkeley and the Bay Area, the University of Washington and Seattle, and others – even international locations –  need to be squarely in our sights.  It is time to compete in entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurial talent needs to be recruited and cultivated.  Creative class thinkers are not fungible.  Universities that feed the best and brightest creative talent into their local startup scenes live in a system of reciprocal benefit with the surrounding region.  Over time, students and academic stars migrate to universities that have a critical mass of individuals who are bridging innovation and moving the scholarly frontiers of knowledge.  Universities that fail will stagnate and decline.

So, what is the Silicon Flatirons Center doing?  Several things.  First, and most importantly, we will continue to work closely with our entrepreneurial partners across the CU campus to support the startup scene at CU and in Boulder.   Second, SFC will release a Blueprint Report this fall that sets forth a vision for a cohesive public entrepreneurial university; one that works as a team towards an integrated goal.  Finally, we will use the BoulderStartups site to present a blog series that will compare CU with other public entrepreneurial universities.  The hope is that understanding the capacities of other universities and startup scenes will help CU identify comparative strengths and weaknesses.

Over the past five years, no one has ever asked, “Are you going to beat Washington in entrepreneurship this year?”  We need to start thinking this way at Silicon Flatirons and across the CU campus.

 

Brad Bernthal is the Director of the Entrepreneurship Initiative at the Silicon Flatirons Center and is an Associate Professor of Law at CU Law School.

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Brews and Geeks at Silicon Flatirons

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On June 20, 2013, the Silicon Flatirons Centers hosted the “Brews & Geeks: A Tale of Two Entrepreneurship Scenes”, which focused on the question of whether two of Colorado’s most famous (although disparate) startup scenes, software and craft brewing, could learn from one another. The event convened two panels of experts from craft breweries and tech startups. The full video of the event is available here. Below are some of the highlights.

 

Panel One: A Brief History of Beer & Tech included presenter John Carlson, Executive Director of Colorado Brewers Guild, who shared the history of beer in Colorado including the significant laws and people who shaped the industry. From 1859 to President Ford and Steve Jobs to the recent explosion in craft breweries, Carlson painted an astonishingly deep and colorful image of brewing in Colorado with some interesting connections and parallels to the tech scene. He pointed out that, perhaps most significantly, President’s Carter 1979 home brewing bill changed allowed home brewers to legally brew small batches of beer, planting the homebrew seeds that would grow into craft beers.  For more, see the highlight video for John Carlson’s Beer and Tech Timeline here.

 

Joining Carlson were panelists Jim Deters, Managing Director and Founder of Galvanize, Julia Hertz, Craft Beer Program Director of Brewers Association, and Kirk Holland, Managing Director of Access Venture Partners. Each panelist discussed their thoughts on the successes of beer and tech in the Front Range. The panel agreed on a few key themes that make the Front Range a great place for both beer and tech entrepreneurs. First, the Front Range boasts an enormous support system for start-up businesses. Second, the proximity of these businesses allows for collaborative spaces. Finally, Colorado’s risk-taking, work-hard-play-hard culture attracts the type of people that make craft breweries and tech startps succeed. See the highlight videos of Why Beer and Tech in the Front Range here.

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Panel Two: Comparing the Ecosystems brought another set of perspectives. On the subject of the financing differences between craft brewing and tech startups, John Eckstein, attorney and Director of Fairfield and Woods, P.C., noted: “Tech entrepreneurs could learn a thing or two from brewers. Tech investments tend to be very narrow in thinking while brewers, who take out mortgage after mortgage to keep their business afloat, could teach tech companies how to really grow and how to finance their own business.” Matt Cutter, Founder of Upslope Brewing Company, pointed out that “a Brewery is a factory, and requires heavy capital.” However, unlike many tech startups who receive outside investment, Cutter financed Upslope through a series of bootstrapping maneuvers like home equity loans and lines of credit. He also pointed out that part of what makes that possible for brewers is that much of the borrowed money is used to purchase physical assets that retain value in the event that the brewery fails where a failed tech startup is left with very few assets that can be sold to cover debts.  Watch the Financial Aspects Highlights of Brews and Geeks here.

 

Panel two presenters also spoke about the ecosystem between the two industries and how information sharing is shaping their business. Linsey Cornish, Brewer at Odell Brewing Company, stated that as brewers, “we are very open and share information about our processes and new equipment. Our trade secrets tend to be marketing strategies and certain key ingredients. We’ve been brewing beer for over two thousand years, so there are not very many secrets left.  But that’s the amazing part of the industry, is that even though we are competitors, I’ve run out of things (ingredients) at work and drove to New Belgium down the road and they helped me make beer that day. That is why Colorado is so amazing for a brewer. There is this comradery between everyone and a special brewing atmosphere.” Anda Lincoln, Co-Founder Funkwerks Brewery and John Eckstein both agreed that this collaboration is one of the biggest reasons that the beer business is not just fun, but thriving in Colorado. Ingrid Alongi, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Quick Left, observed that in her field, like in brewing, “ the technology is very collaborative, but it’s the marketing and the execution of what tech companies do with their products that really sets us apart.”

 

The Brews and Geeks events concluded with a networking session with a lot of spirited discussions on what the industries can learn from each other, the similarities and differences of industry struggles, talk of the future and where the businesses are headed, and of course, fine craft beers.

 

To see the entire event and listen in on the conversation, please click here to find the full video.

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The Future of Entrepreneurial Finance, a Silicon Flatirons Conference

SFC Logo_Horizontal_NoText-1On March 21, 2013, the Silicon Flatirons Center’s fifth annual Entrepreneurship Conference focused upon The Future of Entrepreneurial Finance.  The Conference convened three panels of experts from business, government, and academia. After the conference, the Silicon Flatirons Center produced a report summarizing the discussions at the conference. The full report and a video of the conference is available here. Below are some of the highlights.

 

The Entrepreneurship Conference traced trends in the dynamics of outside investment into startups.  Three insights bear special mention.  First, the Conference examined whether, in association with early investments into startups, capital can be effectively unbundled from control.  Several trends in startup investing – ranging from the activity of “super angels,” to expanded use of crowd funding, to wider reliance of Rule 506 exemptions – suggest that the traditionally tight coupling of capital and control in startup investments may be evolving in a way that increasingly unbundles capital and control.

 

Is this unbundling a good thing for entrepreneurs? It depends on both the entrepreneur and the investors. The experience, advice, and connections that an involved investor can provide to a less experienced entrepreneur can be critical in a business’s success. On the flip side, an experienced entrepreneur with a strong network may be better off with unbundled money, especially with an investor that is over-involved or otherwise challenging to work with.

 

Second, in examining the JOBS Act, panelists underscored the importance of removing the general solicitation ban in Rule 506 exemptions.  Participants observed that this development will make Rule 506 even more attractive to emerging companies and, overall, may be the most important element of the JOBS Act.

 

The equity crowdfunding provision, although it garnered a large share of the discussion, was not seen as the most important part of the JOBS Act. When one considers all of the implications of raising capital through equity crowdfunding it becomes apparent that it will not be the right path for many startups.

 

And third, in looking to the future of entrepreneurial finance, innovation could occur at two levels.  One, at a regulatory level, the Bank Holding Act merits examination to determine whether it is locking in 10-year terms for VC funds, even in sectors such as biotechnology where a longer fund term may be appropriate.

 

Two, at a private contracting level, funds may be well served to consider changes that include raising the commitment of general partners from 1% to 3% of a fund, allowing more flexibility with respect to GP team changes during the term of a fund, and more transparent reporting that would allow LPs to invest in “sidecars” alongside the VC fund.  Each of these is elaborated upon in the full report.

 

The conference included a lot of spirited discussion of the landscape and future of entrepreneurial finance. While the landscape is perhaps more fractured than it has ever been, there is a spectrum of funding options available. This may shake up some of the traditional funding entities, but it has the potential to be a boon for startups of all stripes.

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