Volunteering Your Way into the Startup Community

Three years ago I decided that I wanted to find a career in the startup ecosystem in Boulder. In that time I volunteered my way from being an outsider looking in to being a thriving member of the community. If you're interested in doing the same, I recommend finding ways to donate some of your brainpower and give-a-shit around town.

I consider myself an introvert. I grew up in New England and generally have the attitude that I already have all the friends I need in life. My ancestors in China built thousands of miles of wall to keep people out. It's fair to say that becoming an active community member doesn't come naturally to me.

I fell in love with the Boulder startup ecosystem because it represents the energy, calculated risk taking, creativity, and everything else that I love about entrepreneurship. I knew that if I wanted to take part, I'd have to come out of my shell to match that level of activity. Scary. I started showing up at BDNTIgnite Boulder, and eventually BOCC pretty regularly as a passive attendee. It was a start, but because I'm a wallflower by nature, I hadn't really gotten to know too many people. That changed when I started to volunteer.

I spent a weekend at SnapCamp to work on an initiative to help organizations across the country tap into volunteers within their communities. In working shoulder to shoulder with a handful of people for a weekend, I was able to build long lasting, meaningful relationships that traditional networking rarely delivers on for me. I didn't know it at the time, but volunteering would become the only form of networking that I rely on.

In the meantime I've handed out shirts at TEDxBoulder, written posts for boulder.me, worked the registration desk at Big Boulder, and pitched in with a variety of other small efforts around town. I've also become an organizer for House of Genius, an all volunteer organization that helps entrepreneurs move forward with their companies by harnessing the collective genius of the business community.

Update: Take a look at Startup Communities Are Built By Self-Appointed Leaders by Brad Bernthal for other examples of ways to contribute to the community. Brad is the Entrepreneurship Initiative Director at Silicon Flatirons Center and linchpin to the connection between CU and the rest of the startup community here in Boulder.

Brad Feld, a local community leader, encourages people to give before you get. I've given some and gotten plenty in return. I've been able to call upon people I would otherwise never have access to, based purely on the fact that they've heard I'm a "community guy", to help me with personal, professional, and volunteer pursuits.

There's no need to draft a strategy and tactics to become a member of the community. Look for a couple of things that sound interesting, show up, and pitch in. It's as simple as that. If you're in Boulder, I'd love to cross paths with you.