Editor’s note: May is BLDRfly’s tech startup issue, where we’ll profile Boulder tech startup luminaries, stand out startups and some of the other important players in the city’s outstanding startup ecosystem such as venture capital firms and accelerators.
Boulder has always attracted big companies — it offers employees a world-class place to live and execs a wonderful outpost to live or visit. IBM, of course, established a campus here in the 1960s.
Homegrown tech companies have also risen to great heights here such as Zayo Group (pending $14.3 billion acquisition by Digital Colony) and Rally Software (acquired by CA Technologies in 2015).
Boulder’s tech ecosystem has deepened over the last decade and a half, led by pioneering leaders such as Brad Feld, who co-founded global tech accelerator Techstars in Boulder and runs one of the city’s largest venture capital firms in Foundry Group and wrote his 2012 book “Startup Communities” based on his experience in the Boulder startup scene.
In recent years, driven by Boulder’s small-town charm, talented workforce and big-mountain lifestyle, the nation’s largest consumer tech companies have begun opening shop here. Google, Amazon, Twitter and Apple have all amplified their presence here, each bringing hundreds of employees to town.
This further amplifies Boulder’s already significant stature. Pound-for-pound, the city stands on par with some of the nation’s most dynamic startup ecosystems such as Silicon Valley, Seattle and Boston.
It also has all the foundational components to a strong startup ecosystem:
- a smart workforce (Bloomberg ranked Boulder No. 1 on its 2019 Brain Concentration index, a measure of science and technology degrees, advanced degrees and business formation)
- a vibrant entrepreneur ecosystem (12 percent of Boulder businesses are defined as startups)
- an active investment scene (Boulder has a lot of VC companies, particularly those focused on early stage investments; Boulder companies attract a lot of VC money)
- a high quality of life
Among the 18 startup cities analyzed by the Boulder Chamber in its 2020-updated Boulder Innovation report, Boulder ranked fourth with $3,813 in per-capita venture capital investment behind only San Francisco, Palo Alto (in the heart of Silicon Valley) and Boston.
“Boulder has one of the nation’s most dynamic, robust, diverse, highest-performing economies,” says Clif Harald, Boulder Economic Development Council executive director and an organizer of the report.
These big companies not only bring jobs, but executive expertise and hungry entrepreneurs who, themselves, will join other smaller companies, attract more investment and further burnish Boulder’s tech scene.
Google, of course, has been building a $131 million three-building, 300,000-square-foot Boulder campus at 2930 Pearl Street over the last several years. It had plans to move employees into the final building on the campus, which has room for about 1,500 employees, this spring.
In 2019, Google expanded its footprint with an additional 160,000 square feet, taking over the space at 3333 Walnut Street, vacated by CA Technologies Inc. At a gauge of 150 square feet per employee, the building could accommodate approximately 1,000 additional Google employees. Google also has space at 2590 Pearl Street and 2600 Pearl Street.
Several Google subsidiaries also have a presence in Boulder, including health care technology firm Verily Life Sciences and Google smart home device developer Google Nest, which has a perch at 2525 28th Street. Currently, Google says it has approximately 1,300 employees in Boulder among its various divisions.
Amazon opened a small office in Boulder in July 2017 and expanded to a 37,000-square-foot downtown space at 1900 15th Street in 2018. Amazon employees in town focus on digital advertising, consumer electronics and cloud computing. We don’t have exact numbers, but Amazon’s Boulder office has room for 1,500 staff.
The company has upped its hiring in Colorado this year; it has almost doubled its Colorado employee count this spring to nearly 8,000. Amazon pitches Boulder to potential hires as a place with “talent, tech, recreation and sun.”
Twitter swooped into Boulder in 2014 when it acquired Boulder startup Gnip, a social media data aggregation and presentation tool. Twitter Boulder employees, last reported at over 100, work out of the Wencel Building at 1301 Walnut Street.
Apple, which operates a software hub at 5360 Sterling Drive in Boulder, has declined to comment on its Boulder operations beyond making a statement about a year ago that the firm’s local headcount could jump to 500 by 2022.
Big Tech, Small Tech
It’s in this big-tech milieu that Boulder continues to operate as a world-class hub for tech and innovation.
It does not have the size and scope of tier-one startup areas such as Silicon Valley, Seattle or Boston, but it offers companies, founders, entrepreneurs and innovators something they can’t get in busier parts of the world — a tight-knit community, a “help-first” mantra, and close proximity to mountain lifestyles and one of the nation’s best airport hubs in DIA.
With a wealth of next-gen jobs, it is also well-positioned to rebound from Covid-19.
Header Image: Google Boulder Campus. Credit: F Delventhal.