I recently moved to Boise to run ClickBank, the world’s largest digital products platform for very small to mid-sized businesses. ClickBank has offices in Broomfield, Colo., (right outside of Boulder) and we’re headquartered in Boise.
In Seattle, you get spoiled with the size of the startup community, the large pool of capital and the great technical talent fed by the computer science department at the University of Washington. Heck, the Paul Allen wing at the UW is bursting at the seams with incoming CS talent.
Being new to town, I am struck by the fact that not only is the town really great, but it also has the raw materials to be a great tech startup city just like Boulder. On the personal side, there is a great music scene, great restaurants, close to everything that you would ever want to do outside and 300 days of sunshine per year. On the business side, we have stalwart tech companies like Micron and Hewlett-Packard based here and a large base of capital available for startups. And we have the University of Idaho and Boise State University.
But the fact is that there are not that many startups here (yet), there’s small output of computer science grads and there are no large exits. I run one of the largest privately held technology companies, but my engineering team is all based right outside of Boulder. Boulder actually has the highest density of startups per capita of any city in the country, according to a report from the Kauffman Foundation (Seattle is No. 5). Granted, having a small denominator in metro population helps to raise your ranking. But I don’t believe that there is an outlier here – Fort Collins, Colo., and Denver are also in the top 10 rankings.
What’s Colorado’s recipe for success?
Is it Brad Feld, of TechStars fame? Having a spokesperson that represents capital doesn’t hurt. He has certainly been Colorado’s Crocodile Dundee.
Fresh computer science brains? University of Colorado certainly pumps out a lot of great talent. Clearly having a larger and more technical workforce is paramount to the growth of any tech ecosystem.
Capital? Boise’s one active venture capital firm, Highway 12, is not active, but there is a lot of capital on the sidelines.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that there is not a common goal to get more of an entrepreneurial flywheel in Boise. There are lots of groups that are trying to do tech startups. A large public/private push to encourage funding in the tech startup space in a unified way would go a long way to establish a long-term plan. Heck, why not have a three-year goal to cultivate as many startups as Boulder has right now? My boss recently touched on this topic recently, and Brad Feld has even commented on the promise of Boise.
This should be a very doable goal for Treasure Valley. Maybe we need a Crocodile Dundee?
Matt Hulett, a serial entrepreneur and seasoned public company executive, is the CEO of Boise-based, market-leading digital products platform ClickBank. Hulett was president of the corporate travel division of Expedia Inc., the world’s largest online travel company, where he launched the corporate travel business from an idea to a billion-dollar worldwide leader in just a couple of years.