Boulder StartupWeek 2014
William Lyon / May 22, 2014
7 min read •
I had the opportunity to spend the last week in Boulder, CO for Boulder StartupWeek. StartupWeek is a week long event highlighting the startup and tech scene of a communty. It started in Boulder, but is now spreading. I wanted to share my experience and any takeways.
My notes were somewhat incomplete; apologies for all errors and omissions.
Development Tools Forum
The kickoff event of the week was a series of lightening talks about development tools. This event was held in the SCRiB co-working space:
A panel talk about futurist thinking and the singularity. Insights on where technology is leading us and impact that is having on society. One panelist had an interesting take on why social media and sharing are so pervasive. He pointed to recent studies that have shown the brain releases oxytocin (a hormone associated with pleasure and bonding) when sharing via social media. His suggestion for entrepreneurs: find a product that causes the release of oxytocin for your customers.
Sphero Open House
Orbotix, Inc, the makers of the Sphero robot were kind enough to open up their offices for an open house. Beer was on tap and robots were rolling around the obstacle course. Ollie, the latest robot offering from Orbotix was on display.
The Boulder Beta event involved six Boulder startups demonstrating their products. One that I was particularly excited about was Ramen, a crowdfunder for software projects. Ramen allows you to fund your next software project with pre-sales, but also to get design feedback. Their product wraps sales/funding, customer validation and user feedback into one service. As anyone who has tried to build a software product knows, these are not easy things to manage. Ramen is live now, I encourage any developers working on building a software product now to check it out.
Despite being scheduled at 8am, the talk on functional programming (led by Brian and Kris of Simple Energy) was standing room only. Brian focused on an introduction to the functional programming paradigm, leading with this appropriate quote:
... functional programming is a restriction on how we write programs, but not on what programs we can express.
Dave Pitman presented in the new Galvanize Boulder space. In fact, this was the first event to make use of the space since its remodel. Dave made the case that static design mockups are no longer sufficient when today's designs need to reflect complex user interactions like touch gestures and animations. He talked about five design tools that he uses to help bridge this gap.
Tuesday night concluded with a "startup crawl": eleven startups opened their offices, providing beer and fun events. This was a great opportunity to see what some of Boulder's startup office environments are like, meet lots of startup folks and see what they're working on.
Bughouse at the Simple Energy Office
Craps at MobileDay / JumpCloud
Amazing patio at Galvanize Boulder
New Sendgrid offices
Big Data Lightning Talks
Wednesday started for me with a series of lightening talks about Big Data and how companies are solving Big Data problems. Usually I cringe when I hear the phrase "big data", but these talks were quite compelling. Two of the three presenters talked about modeling their problem as a graph, something I'm seeing more and more in the big data space. As someone studying network science and dealing with my own big data graph problems I really believe applied graph theory is one of the more useful paradigms for big data solutions.
Becca and Larkin from RiverandLark Productions, a video production studio based in Boulder presented about how to create a compelling product video. The takeaway for me was to focus on telling a story and capturing human emotion, as that is the level that makes your story most relateable.
Analyze Boulder is a meetup group that meets regularly to talk about all things data. Here's my short summary of each of the talks presented:
Boulder Bike Share - Boulder has a great BCycle bike share program. Analyzing the data from how people are using the bike share reveals that people don't like to ride uphill, when it's cold or when it's raining. Great overview of how mining usage patterns to make smart decisions can improve city infrastructure offerings.
Algorithmically detecting assholes - Analyzing game play from Activision's Call of Duty to train a model to automatically find cheaters. Data science is everywhere, even in your video games!
Tomnod - crowdsourced satellite imagery analysis. Where is flight MH-370? Tomnod's platform allowed for a million users to analyze satellite photos in an attempt to find the missing aircraft. How else could this platfrom be used? From search and rescue missions to evaluating oil fields.
Walking Tour of Boulder
Frank from Boulder Walking Tours led us around downtown Boulder and told us some great stories from Boulder's early days. Did you know that Boulder currently has a 55ft maximum building height? And that is also the height of the tallest tree in Boulder?
Techstars for a Half Day
It's obvious that Techstars has had a huge impact on the startup community in Boulder. This event gave some insight into what it's like to be a part of the Techstars program. Techstars mentors were available to listen to pitches and give feedback to help hone your startup pitch and business model ideas. I got some great feedback for a project I'm working on and enjoyed hearing what others are working on.
20 slides. 15 seconds per slide. I heard this event compared to TED talks, but the format really allows for a much wider range of stories to be told in a much more concise form. Inspiring talks about overcoming your fears, traveling adventures, the power of family members, the benefits of the hemp industry and much more.
Early Stories at Big Companies
Andrew Hyde, lead organizer for StartupWeek, presenting the panel for a talk on early stories at big companies. Panel members were founders and early hires from Sovrn, Twitter, Sendgrid and GitHub.
Takeways for me:
- Competition from large companies is not necessarily a bad thing. It validates your idea, can give you better visability, and offers the opportunity to win on implementation (Sendgrid)
- Be wary of PR firms early on. Don't let them convince you have something worth while when you really don't (Sovrn).
Hiking with Angels and Vcs
Boulder has easy access to outdoor recreation opportunities. An example of that is Chautauqua Park. Great hiking trails to explore. How about sharing those trails with a group of entrepreneurs and angel investors?
Thanks so much to everyone involved in StartupWeek, especially the organizers and volunteers. And thanks to the sponsors for sponsoring my trip to Boulder as part of the fly-in program. I met so many great people and got to experience a piece of the Boulder startup community.
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