Boomtown Executive Director Toby Krout, at right, continues to innovate his accelerator. Courtesy Boomtown

How Boomtown innovates with each startup

BOULDER — Boomtown started with the idea of legacy.

Co-founder Toby Krout has been successful in business. But as he thought about what he wanted to leave his kids, he realized a trust fund or even a good example wasn’t enough. He wanted to leave them with lessons.

When it was all said and done, he wanted to leave them with lessons. He wanted to show them what it meant to take a risk.

So he formed an accelerator. At the time, in 2014, there was only one other accelerator in Boulder, and it was a big one.

The Boomtown accelerator launched after just a month of planning. In that time, it had 150 applications for mentors and 250 applications from founders who wanted to be in its first cohort.

In nearly four years, Boomtown has become one of Boulder’s biggest accelerators. It has partnerships with another local accelerator, Upramp, as well as the National Health Council and NBCUniversal Comcast. This year, Boomtown opened a second location, with a new name and its own unique identity, in Atlanta.

Boomtown, which is also run by co-director Jose Vieitez and CFO Jason Searfoss, is growing its influence, but Krout said it has no intention of being the next Techstars or Y Combinator.

Rather, Boomtown is a place to grow innovators, and to successfully do that, Boomtown must constantly innovate itself and what it means to be an accelerator.

“Techstars was one of the first movers, and they had a model no one had ever seen,” Krout told BizWest, sitting at a round table in a corner of Boomtown’s Downtown office off Broadway. “But often when you’re the first, the model is sub-optimal. The next wave of accelerators were copy cats. But the third wave of any business category are the disruptors.”

That’s what Boomtown aims to be, with what Krout called a “100 percent different” approach to being an accelerator.

Boomtown, he said, is a custom, bespoke model. It’s founder-first.

Some accelerators use a model similar to large-scale investors. They invest in as many companies as possible, hoping that 1 percent are the startups that stick: the next AirBnB, the next Uber.

It’s a model that might work for them, but Krout sees the focus on funding in the accelerator industry as a misstep.

“It’s a fallacy that the No. 1 reason a startup fails is that it’s run out of money,” he said. “That statement has had a ripple effect on entrepreneurship. I think you could make the case that institutional venture capital has held back entrepreneurship. It’s put in mind that the startup must spend time raising money.”

But Krout sees the financial failure not as a reason, but an outcome — an outcome of making bad decisions: “Founder preparedness is the reason they fail,” he said.

That idea is what drives Broomtown’s founder-first mentality. The focus of a startup should not be raising money, he said, it should be obsessing over a problem customers have.

“It takes rolling up the sleeves and getting into the muck to help guide them,” he said. “There’s no way to scale that. Our model is custom and bespoke. Every session is custom designed. It’s constantly changing. And the speed at which we update is correlated to the quality of the program. We’re teaching cutting-edge stuff.”

Founders seem to agree. Caleb Scalf, CEO of one of Boomtown’s latest companies, Hygge Power, said he had spoke with other accelerators, but Boomtown exceeded his expectations. Hygge Power is a startup that has created a product to plug into outlets and provide backup power during a blackout or other utility emergency.

“Boomtown is different than other accelerators we looked at,” said Scott Davis, CEO of another Boomtown startup, Truesync Media, a company that connects brand marketers directly with TVs in bars and restaurants.

“They have a much larger staff,” Davis said. “Looking at accelerators out there, we thought Boomtown had a more rigorous program to help companies. They definitely projected they would be more involved and have a more elaborate offering, and we found that to be true. We got tremendous value from our Boomtown experience.”

Boomtown’s philosophy is that startups should be obsessed with their customers’ problems, and the accelerator held itself to that same standard.

Boomtown saw its customers — the entrepreneurs that participate in the program — have a problem in growing their business. So Boomtown started to look at solutions in how they could help, beyond just its founders-first model.

And one of those solutions was to partner with corporations.

“Corporations are just startups that made it,” Krout said. “Corporations need to understand how to solve innovation challenges, and startups need to know how to behave when they’re big.”

The accelerator has a partnership with another area accelerator in Louisville, Upramp, which is a part of CableLabs, a nonprofit financed by the cable industry. With CableLabs comes a connection to more than 60 cable and video companies throughout the world.

Together, Boomtown and Upramp work together to bring in startups that are part of the telecom and connectivity space and help them build their business and connect to telecom corporations.

“Partnering with Boomtown was a natural fit,” said Scott Brown, managing director of Upramp. 

The idea is a startup in the connectivity space could start with Boomtown and learn the ropes, and once it has gained some traction, join the Upramp Fiterator, which grows startups that have moved beyond early-stage, and connect with real deals through the CableLabs 60-member consortium.

Another corporate connection is what Boomtown is doing in Atlanta with Comcast.

There, the two are launching “The Farm,” an accelerator that will be run by Boomtown, but will have its own culture and programming unique to the Atlanta startup ecosystem. Krout said they didn’t want to brand the Atlanta accelerator as Boomtown, because Boomtown is not a template. This accelerator, with its partnership to Comcast, would be individualized and should have its own name. The Farm is a reference to the farm leagues used to bring in baseball talent and the accelerator will be located in The Battery, the new home of the Atlanta Braves. 

To ensure that the program will be unique, Burunda Prince-Jones, an Atlanta-native and MIT and Harvard graduate, was brought in from Philadelphia to run the program with fresh eyes.

“I’m really excited about the unique combination of Boomtown and Comcast,” Prince-Jones told BizWest. “I love the fact that I can return to a different and better Atlanta and maximize my professional experiences.”

The Farm will operate in 12,000 square feet in The Battery, using the latest technology available.

“We’re uniquely positioned because of the Comcast partnership,” she said.

As Boomtown grows, through its partnerships and its expansion into new markets, its philosophy on how to operate an accelerator grows with it.

But Krout said even with the growth and attention — the accelerator was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal — he doesn’t intend to stop innovating and looking on how he can improve the model.

“We won’t over pat ourselves on the back,” he said. “We’ve talked about how if we ever write a book, we’re dead. To do our work, we have to evolve and if we ever write the book, we will contradict that.”

But Krout said he knows that the Boomtown founder-first model is successful.

“The reason startups fail is because they’re not making the right decisions,” he said. “We already know we’re successful on a lot of levels, but we’re always iterating. We’re making decisions about Boomtown constantly.”

BOULDER — Boomtown started with the idea of legacy.

Co-founder Toby Krout has been successful in business. But as he thought about what he wanted to leave his kids, he realized a trust fund or even a good example wasn’t enough. He wanted to leave them with lessons.

When it was all said and done, he wanted to leave them with lessons. He wanted to show them what it meant to take a risk.

So he formed an accelerator. At the time, in 2014, there was only one other accelerator in Boulder, and it was a big one.

The Boomtown accelerator launched after just a month of planning. In that time, it had 150 applications for mentors and 250 applications from founders who wanted to be in its first cohort.

In nearly four years, Boomtown has become one of Boulder’s biggest accelerators. It has partnerships with another local accelerator, Upramp, as well as the National Health Council and NBCUniversal Comcast. This year, Boomtown opened a second location, with a new name and its own unique identity, in Atlanta.

Boomtown, which is also run by co-director Jose Vieitez and CFO Jason Searfoss, is growing its influence, but Krout said it has no intention of being the next Techstars or Y Combinator.

Rather, Boomtown is a place to grow innovators, and to successfully do that, Boomtown must constantly innovate itself and what it means to be an…