COVID-era Boulder remains innovation hotspot

While the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged many industries across the nation, Boulder’s innovation economy remains healthy, leaders in business and academia said Tuesday during the opening panel discussion of the 2020 Boulder Economic Summit.

“Colorado in general has a long history of being a leader nationally,” Foundry Group managing director Seth Levine said, noting that Boulder is the birthplace of now nationwide institutions such as Techstars, Startup Week and Pledge 1%.

That national profile has not diminished during the ongoing coronavirus tumult.

“The diversity of Boulder’s economy is one of our strengths during this challenging period,” Boulder Chamber CEO John Tayer said.

In fact, the virus has provided opportunities for the local, innovative operations to shine. For example, pharmaceutical firm AGC Biologics has been able to launch its new Boulder production facility amid the pandemic. The firm negotiated the purchase of the facility from AstraZeneca PLC completely virtually.

“It’s been a crazy experience but it’s also been fabulous and positive,” AGC co-founder Peter Vilby said.

It’s Boulder’s unique character that makes the city an innovation hotspot, panelists said.

The city embodies a “unique Colorado vision of entrepreneurship and give-first mentality,” Levine said. “We really look out for each other.”

University of Colorado Boulder vice chancellor for research and innovation Terri Fiez agreed and said, “the composition of the community is very unique” — a blend of innovative startups, an entrepreneurial ethos, and the presence of national labs, large technology companies and a world class research university.

The COVID-19 outbreak has placed “unprecedented challenges on leadership [in business and academia] during this time,” both from a tactical standpoint and from an emotional standpoint, Boulder Economic Development Council executive director Scott Sternberg said.

StickerGiant chief operating officer Beth Smith said industry leaders are more focused than ever on building “compassion and trust.” But she warned of the potential for “compassion fatigue” and encouraged leaders not to forget about self-care.

“The resiliency that’s needed today has changed radically,” she said.

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