Subscribe to receive:

Email Updates: Subscribe to Highway 12 Ventures RSS Feed via email
RSS Feed:        Subscribe to Highway 12 Ventures RSS Feed


Apr 24

OK Boise: Now What?

Posted by: Mark Solon        

Last week, I was invited to speak at develop.Idaho 2011, the first annual gathering for Boise’s software community. From my perspective, the event was terrific as these things go. I saw lots of old friends and I was very encouraged by how many new (and younger!) faces I saw as 250 people showed up for this inaugural gathering hosted by the Idaho Technology Council. The organizers even got Frank Gruber to bring his nationally renowned Tech Cocktail to town for it. Judging by my straw poll at the beginning of my talk, more than half of the attendees were either software developers or students. Now that’s an audience I can get excited about.

While the organizers asked me to speak about “how to attract VC dollars”, I chose instead to focus my talk on how we can create a more sustainable ecosystem for startups to thrive in Boise. How can you attract VC dollars? That’s easy, cultivate lots of great startups. I’ve long believed that money sloshes around the globe looking for the best returns and usually finds what it’s looking for. Great ideas rarely go unfunded. World-class mountain biking, skiing, kyaking and fly-fishing all easily accessible from downtown? Trust me, I’m a VC. I guarantee that if we foster an environment for startups to thrive, they’ll have to start adding more flights to BOI to accommodate the venture capitalists that want to invest here.

How to create an environment for startups to thrive in is a bit more difficult than attracting capital to them, but nonetheless completely attainable. I shared in my talk how in just ten short years, Boulder, Colorado has transformed itself from a town very similar to Boise, into what is arguably the hottest startup town in America through a passionate and genuine sense of community along with a commitment from its members to mentoring its young entrepreneurs. Much of that can be traced back to the leadership and vision of my close pals Brad Feld and David Cohen who founded Techstars and inspired the startup community to get more involved in its own success.

My partners and I have been investing in Boulder startups for almost a decade and we’ve had a front row seat to its remarkable growth. I outlined concrete steps we can take to emulate Boulder’s success, starting with getting more startups to move downtown to the 8th street / Bodo area (remarkably similar to Pearl Street in Boulder). Bob Lokken and I had dinner with Mayor Bieter and the chair of the CCDC last year and implored them to emulate the startup friendly environment on Pearl Street in Boulder to create “Startup Alley” between Bannock & Bodo on 8th street to make this part of their downtown strategy. I also shared some data outlining the remarkably fast growth of BSU’s world class material science department thanks to a generous $2M gift from the Micron Foundation in 2004 and how we could significantly fill the (gaping) void of quality software engineers (relative to the demand) in Boise by making a similar investment in BSU’s computer science department.

Finally, I outlined how everyone in the room could get much more involved in creating a vibrant startup community and implored ways to be a mentor, though you might not think of yourself as one. I shared anecdotes about the remarkable effect community involvement has had on Boulder’s startups and pointed out how folks like Jonathon Fishman (Tire Swing project, Cohort Series), Ryan Woodings (TechBoise & now co-founder of Boise Open Coffee Club with me) and J.D. Mullin (C.S. Series) are quietly doing similar things in Boise.

Despite the provocative nature of my talk (ok, I let my inner New Yorker out a few times), the feedback has been tremendous. I’ve received many tweets, emails and calls about how folks were inspired by my talk and how they’re going to get more involved.

That’s terrific. I’m thrilled that people are inspired. It’s also just words, which means for now, it’s just bullshit. It’s super easy to bang out 140 characters about how you’re fired up and blah blah blah. It’s a lot harder to look inside yourself and commit to figure out to get involved. Sorry for being cynical but I’ve seen this cycle before. Someone gives a great talk and everyone gets fired up. A few weeks later it’s back to status quo. I responded to many who reached out to me by asking them how they’re going to get involved. To my delight, David Poole and Chris Etcheverry replied to me with these two tweets (respectively) which absolutely made my day!

linuxlizard (David Poole): @mark_solon Volunteered to teach one @jdmullin‘s CS Extras classes. Maybe embedded systems, maybe C. I can step up as a mentor.

@chrisetch (Chris Etcheverry): @mark_solon We’re shipping @qdealz, I’m meeting with BSU student code groups, and I did a “rails new” on my best idea last night!

I’d love to hear from anyone and everyone who are going to get more involved in our collective efforts and how they’re going to do it. I’d be happy to blog about it if you reach out to me. I’m aware of a relatively small group of people (including my partners Phil, Glenn and George) who regularly contribute a great deal of their time behind the scenes by working with first-time entrepreneurs and students in a variety of ways. We need more. As I demonstrated in my talk, Boise’s lost a lot of high paying jobs over the last decade that aren’t coming back. It’s up to the next wave of young, smart and talented entrepreneurs to fill the gap and it’s up to us to create a healthy environment for them to succeed.

So Boise, I’ve got one question for you: Now what?


4 Responses to “OK Boise: Now What?”

  1. avatar Eric Leaman says:

    Just moved from Seattle in September and stumbled upon this blog post by googling “startup community boise”. I find it fascinating that this was one of the first results that showed up. It’s raw, truthful and genuine, particularly calling out the 140 character bullshitters, so to speak. Been there, done that, seen it millions of times. So, Mark Solon, although I’ve never met you and vaguely heard about you in the last few months, I tremendously appreciate your candor here and provocation in building a startup community.

    Now what, you ask? Part of the reason I googled those keywords were due to a conversation I had at Big City Coffee today. A gentleman with a strong background in finance loves startups, but has no idea where to begin. A friend of his, at a local law firm, also has a strong entrep bug. Yet neither knows how to plug in and connect to the right people. Sure, in the last few months, I’ve found some “human routers” of Boise, the lower-level Ron Conway’s of the world.
    But many of them are so bogged down with other endeavors they don’t have time to begin building a community of startups, or (and this is where I believe we start) building a community of startup THINKERS which turn into doers and connectors. Bring different industries together under one roof, maybe 8-10 total. Not Kickstand, not one of the million other groups here that have stalled startup movement because there’s very minimal cooperation. Bring 8-10 industries together, 1 from each that has entrepreneurial bug, and just meet once. Discuss, mesh; find out if the interest exists in multiple fields and start connecting the dots.

    I think Boise needs a few leaders under 35 to step up in a big, big way for the startup community. Leaders with spunk, spirit, energy and an entrepreneurial drive. I’m working on it…but I also want to hear your thoughts. At any rate, hope some fruit came from your talk. And if not, maybe I can help.


  2. avatar Mark Solon says:


    Wow, great response! As someone who moved to Boise when he was 35 years old and spent the last 12 years working hard with others to foster a better startup ecosystem here, it’s refreshing for this 47 year-old to hear your enthusiasm. Do something, and let me know how I can help!

  3. avatar Mark Solon says:

    I know Nancy well and she’s a great asset to the community. Always available to talk Eric.

Post a new comment