By John Tayer, President & CEO – October 31, 2018
I’ve been meaning to write about this for quite some time, but as this column will appear just after the frenzy and divisiveness of our election season, it feels like the right time to talk about something that unites us.
Observers have long extolled the virtues of Boulder’s “culture of collaboration” which, more recently, has been branded with the “#GiveFirst” moniker. It’s part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem that local entrepreneur and startup business investor Brad Feld first described in his seminal book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. It also was the subject of a recent Silicon Flatirons seminar, “Community, Creativity, and #GiveFirst.”
At first blush, it might appear that #GiveFirst is simply another name for corporate philanthropy and/or something attached to biblical principles, like the golden “do unto others” rule, but it’s far more than that. It’s a systemic approach to entrepreneurial community activity that can be a driving force for shared success. That’s what we’ve seen in Boulder.
Among our peer entrepreneurial communities, this #GiveFirst character trait is indeed unique to Boulder. I’ve wondered if it’s rooted in our frontier heritage, where working together was a matter of life and death. Regardless, it’s a compelling and attractive element of our business community’s DNA. I can’t begin to count the number of recently-arrived entrepreneurs who sit in my office and, unsolicited, remark how amazingly “supportive” and “helpful” everyone has been to them.
Just like every other trait attributed to business success, and in no small part due to years of proselytizing by Boulder’s #GiveFirst evangelists and the propagation of our Boulder-based startup support enterprises, like TechStars, other entrepreneurial hubs are beginning to catch the #GiveFirst spirit. In the words from a recent exchange I had with Feld, “[I]t’s spreading nicely.” But that begs the question, what is it that we’re spreading when we talk of #GiveFirst?
First, as was noted during the Silicon Flatirons seminar, #GiveFirst is not transactional. It’s the compulsion to give proactively to the ecosystem with no specific expectation of return but to enhance the ecosystem for all.
Take, for example, Google’s recent gift of $2 million to support the University of Colorado’s global STEM education project, PhET Interactive Simulations, and to provide rent-free space for the CU Boulder-founded National Center for Women & Information Technology. While Google might directly benefit from employing graduates of these programs, our entire community will benefit by raising the level of inclusiveness in leading-edge industries.
Another related concept that Feld introduced in his first book — and that Boulder certainly exemplifies — is the principle that “everyone is a mentor.” I’ve had the good fortune of serving in a variety of mentor positions, most recently with Galvanize and during Boulder Startup Week.
Finally, #GiveFirst doesn’t mean give-on-demand or all-the-time. Panelists during the Silicon Flatirons seminar spoke frankly regarding the risk of “generosity burnout.” Don’t let others dictate how you respond to their needs: set boundaries and take time for yourself. It’s like they say on airplanes, make sure to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. #GiveFirst isn’t an expectation of sacrifice. It’s something healthy people do from a position of strength to lift us all.
There is much more to say on this topic — I know Feld will be covering it extensively in his soon-to-be-released book, #GiveFirst: A New Philosophy for Business in the Era of Entrepreneurship — and we should. Boulder’s collaborative sprit is something we should never take for granted as both a key to our success as a startup hub and overall economy. So, let understand it and let’s live it: #GiveFirst!
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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