"Boulder Innovation Venture" Compares Colorado Community to Top U.S. Markets

Boulder was second only to San Francisco in per-capita VC investment in 2017

Boulder is highly regarded for its desirable quality of life, attracting residents who often have the ability to choose to live anywhere in the world. Residents enjoy a world-class mix of artistic, cultural, dining, entertainment and shopping options.

The city also earns accolades for its high-performing schools, health-care offerings and recreational pursuits to keep any adrenaline junkie satisfied. During the last two years, Boulder has garnered recognition as one of America’s fittest, happiest, brainiest and healthiest cities, and a community ranked among the very highest nationally on the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

While many people come to Boulder for the lifestyle, others are drawn to the city for its dynamic innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem.  

Boulder is a nationally recognized destination for founders, rivaling even the big coastal players, and the community of startup starters, investors and other local leaders collaborate closely to perpetuate the culture of innovation permeating the city.

But how can an innovation ecosystem be measured, and how can data help compare cities with high-performing innovation economies?

“Boulder Innovation Venture,” a new report published by the Boulder Economic Council of the Boulder Chamber, tracks the performance of the community’s innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem. To try measuring the many forms innovation can take, the report presents 45 key indicators in five critical categories:

  5. PLACE

The indicators were produced to compare Boulder's innovation and entrepreneurial performance with that of eight other regional centers of innovation in the U.S.:  

  1. Austin
  2. Boston
  3. Denver
  4. Portland
  5. Raleigh
  6. San Francisco
  7. San Jose
  8. Seattle.

Most of the findings affirmed Boulder’s productivity as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“We were excited to support and participate in this study, as we think it provides us — as an established Boulder business — with a myriad of empirical data that will be useful as we counsel our clients,” said Lynda Gibbons of Gibbons-White, a commercial real estate broker. “The very fact that Boulder is innovating when it comes to measuring innovation speaks volumes for our community.”


Here are just a few of the key findings:

The Boulder region has a $25 billion economy. For a region with a population of about 325,000 people, this level of productivity is impressive. The City of Boulder is home to 10 leading industries, a diverse mix of aerospace, bioscience, energy, IT/software, natural products, outdoor recreation, research, tourism and more. Most cities of Boulder’s size are fortunate to have one or two economy-driving industries.

To compare apples to apples, if you will, we looked at all 45 categories based on a per-capita comparison rather than just raw data. This revealed a number of rankings for Boulder that may come as a surprise, even for those of us in Colorado.

For example:

  • Boulder was second only to San Francisco in per-capita venture capital investment in 2017, eclipsing even San Jose and Boston.
  • Boulder was second only to Palo Alto in Form D filings per 1,000 residents.
  • Among the communities studied, Boulder ranks third in R&D spending per research university.
  • Out of the eight regions studied for the report, Boulder has the highest density of businesses and jobs per capita. More companies on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of high-growth companies are based in Boulder than in any of the other regions studied — more than twice as many as in Seattle and San Jose.
  • But it’s not all work, without play. The report shows Boulder also tops the list of cities with the most restaurants per capita and is tied with Seattle for the most coffee shops per capita.

Another key factor to Boulder’s success is the overall education level of the population, which also ranks highly in the study. More than 60 percent of Boulder’s population has a bachelor's degree or more, the highest concentration among peer cities. For the last two years in a row, the city received the highest score in the U.S. on the Bloomberg Brain Concentration Index. Additionally, Boulder is home to 17 federal labs and ranks second in highest concentration of federal consortium labs. The town also has the second highest concentration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) occupations among all the regions studied in the report.

Measuring the productivity of a regional entrepreneurial ecosystem is critical to understanding how well a region's startup community performs over time.  The Boulder Innovation Venture” report represents a methodology and tool that other communities could use to measure and monitor the health over time of their entrepreneurial ecosystems.  It's also a strategy that regions can use to compare their ecosystem performance with other regions.

The Boulder Innovation Venture report may be downloaded from the Boulder Economic Council website.

Clif Harald is the executive director of the Boulder Economic Council.

Categories: Economy/Politics