Bootstrappers, behemoths discuss tech industry in Boulder

BOULDER — Boulder’s tech scene is a cross-section of various stages of companies, from the infancy-level startups to giants like Google.

Jud Valeski, general manager of the new Boulder offices for Honey, a startup that helps shoppers save money online through a browser extension, and Scott Green, engineering site director for Google Boulder, discussed the city’s tech and startup environment during their Boulder Startup Week panel “From bootstraps to behemoths: the evolution and range of Boulder’s tech community.”

For startups and enterprise tech companies, Green and Valeski agreed that there is an attraction about Boulder that can make recruiting talent easier.

“It’s a good place to attract and retain talent,” Green said. “The community, especially for early stages, is highly supportive of helping smaller companies grow.”

Valeski added that there is also a cycling of talent in Boulder: People working at larger companies will get the desire to experience the energy of a startup, while people at startups might decide they want more stability and work for an established company.

“There’s an ebb and flow over long periods of time,” Valeski said.

What is more, startups are able to compete with big-name companies when it comes to hiring.

“In a startup, the roles aren’t as structured, which is good for a lot of people,” Green said. “They can take that role and shift it into immediate impact on a business, which you fundamentally can’t do in a big business. I think working with a small group of people driving something successfully would be super appealing.”

There can be barriers to startups beyond the talent side of the equation, however.

The price of commercial real estate can pose a challenge, however Valeski said it’s something that’s often factored in when a startup is raising funds. He added there can be value to a startup to being in a premium location.

“There is correlation between creative pricing and industry capability, I would argue,” he said. “I want to put my startup in a location that has got a lot of intellectual horsepower. Some prefer their costs to be lower — some buddies of mine have put their firms in specific locations in Boulder County that are less expensive. They reap the financial reward but are missing out on the street or hallway conversations, bumping into someone and diving into an intellectual problem.”

Valeski added that a prime location can also help in talent attraction.

Fortunately for startups, the rise of co-working has helped in offsetting some of the costs of office location.

There can still be a draw to other prime areas for tech, such as the Bay Area. But Silicon Valley, besides its high cost of living, can have drawbacks.

“I spent four years out in the Bay Area,” Valeski said. “I lived there, enjoyed it, there was a phenomenal set of incredible people there, but it was a metropolis. You have to drive 45 minutes to get to anything green. So there’s a big lifestyle component. In Boulder there’s an exposure to that spirituality-type stuff, where that kind of density and richness can be highly stimulating.”

Green added that a benefit to Boulder over the Valley is its collaboration. While the Bay Area can be cutthroat, there is a willingness in Boulder to help and work together.

As Boulder grows its tech industry both on the startup and enterprise side, there are goals to increase diversity, both in hiring today and in fostering STEM education at a young age.

When it comes to encouraging STEM skills in children, Green and Valeski encouraged bringing in toys that have a coding or programming aspect to them, as well as encouraging weekend projects like building a rudimentary webpage.

“Focus on the end, what they can do and become and how they can change the world,” Green said. “Give them exposure to the things they can do.”

But for today’s diversity problems, the issue can be complex. Valeski said he has a multi-pronged effort to recruiting that includes branching out to different groups, such as Women Who Code, as well as ensuring the inbound resumes represent not just technical talent but also diverse backgrounds.

Green said Google is also working on this issue, bringing in student tours, speaking to early-level engineering students and reaching out to those in Denver, which skews to having a more ethnically diverse background than Boulder.

“There’s a lot of work to improve our diversity,” he said. “We’re doing good things in the area of our pipeline. It’s good but not good enough.”