Economic Summit: Startups continue to thrive during COVID

BOULDER — Startup businesses in Boulder have continued to thrive but have faced new challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bing Chou, managing director in Boulder for MojoTech, a software engineering firm that works with startups and others, told participants in a session at the annual Boulder Economic Summit Tuesday that he’s seen winners and losers during the pandemic, but in the past two months things have been improving. 

“Some have closed a round [of financing] and then needed to close another round” because of cash needs or perhaps to deal with increased demand that they need to fulfill, he said. 

He said his company and others that he works with have concerns about company culture. 

“How do we preserve a company culture when not being able to meet face to face,” he asked.

Scott Green, retired site director for Google in Boulder, said he expects companies that have sent employees home to work will eventually bring them back to the office. “I don’t think remote work is sustainable. It can be done but these are exceptions, in my opinion,” he said. “People are social beings.” 

Molly Bayer, a senior associate at real estate firm CBRE, said her company also anticipates that there will be a return to the office. “We’re expecting the office market to rebound. We think people will return, but it may look different,” she said, perhaps with workers spending fewer days in the office during the week. 

Dan Powers, director of CO-LABS Inc., an organization that works with and between the numerous federal labs in the state and, among other things, assists them with technology transfer to private industry, said the labs have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus because of risk mitigation protocols within federal agencies. 

“They’ve been quite hobbled in some cases,” he said. The inability for people to get on site and use the testing capabilities of the labs has affected the ability to move technology forward, he said. 

Accessible COVID testing — rapid testing — is critical to the labs, he said, and necessary to get back to normalcy.

COVID Check Colorado, a program that is setting up rapid testing sites around Colorado, may help, suggested Janine Ledingham, Northern Colorado regional director for Manufacturer’s Edge. She said $12 tests are now available in multiple locations.

While those tests may be helpful to industry and give employees confidence that they are safe in returning to work, the federal labs may not be able to avail themselves of these services, Powers said. Federal agencies have their own protocols that they need to follow and cannot necessarily use services available in the private sector.

Regardless of the issues that startups and others face as a result of COVID, the region’s technology future is bright, participants in the discussion agreed.

“Technology will continue moving forward. We don’t need to predict that,” said Green. The region’s quality of life will continue to make the sector a strong performer, he said.

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