Is Boulder the Silicon Valley of the Rockies?
by Cheryl Meyers
For tech entrepreneur Kimbal Musk—who made his way to the foothills after stops in California and New York—the People’s Republic is even better.
Kimbal Musk is one of those everything-he-touches-turns-to-gold kinds of guys. You may know Musk as the founder of Boulder’s eco-bistro the Kitchen, but opening acclaimed restaurants is Musk’s second act. Before Boulder, he was a Silicon Valley success story—he sold his first company, Zip2, to Compaq in 1999 (yep, right at the height of the Web 1.0 boom). Shortly thereafter, he became an angel investor for PayPal—you do the math—and today he sits on electric roadster manufacturer Tesla Motors’ board of directors.
After his tech windfall, Musk studied at the French Cul-inary Institute in New York, and not long after 9/11 he moved his family to Boulder to settle down and cook. What he didn’t expect to find was a thriving tech scene. “Boulder is the up-and-coming tech community in the country. Keep a lookout,” Musk wrote in 2009 in the Huffington Post. In fact, Boulder inspired him to launch a company, OneRiot, that delivers relevant, real-time ad content to the Twitter and Facebook communities. We caught up with Musk to chat about Boulder’s thriving tech scene.
What makes Boulder such a great incubator for tech startups? Boulder’s strength is its community. The startup community is very tight and supportive. From TechStars [a mentorship and seed money program for startups] to investors like Brad Feld [venture capitalist and big man on campus], Boulder is an amazing place to find the peers and financing you need to build a great company.
You lived and worked in Palo Alto, California, the heart of Silicon Valley. How does Boulder compare? Boulder is a community of peers that are working hard and are hypercompetitive. But it is also a place where everyone wants you to succeed—you’re not just rooting for your own company, but also for Boulder itself. Palo Alto is the epicenter of the technology business, but it is much more mercenary in its culture. Employees will hop from company to company at a whim. In Boulder, your employees and teammates are in it for the long haul.
You once wrote of Boulder, “We take Silicon Valley to school.” How so? I think Boulder is what Silicon Valley wishes it could be in many ways. The entrepreneurial spirit in Boulder is raw and honest, and the community is rooting for you. I love Silicon Valley and am involved in many companies there, but my first choice to start a company would be Boulder every time. A great example is TechStars, which was founded in Boulder and has now been replicated around the country. Other communities want what we have.
What is your advice to a young tech entrepreneur looking to start a company in Boulder? Start by taking a serious look at TechStars. It’s an amazing environment to test your ideas, connect and learn from peers, and get invaluable mentoring from the Boulder tech community. If you are a serial entrepreneur, Boulder has everything you need from employees to financing. It’s all already here. Just get started.