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Innovation in Idaho—the ‘Boise Way’—Starts at Trailhead

David H. Bieter

Mayor, City of Boise, Idaho

Boise, Idaho, is, by many measures, the most geographically isolated city of its size in the country. The pioneers who first settled here in the 19th Century were tough, creative and self-reliant—but also willing to rely on one another to find a productive path and avoid repeating others’ mistakes.

All of those qualities continue to define “the Boise way” of doing things in the 21st Century, especially among our entrepreneurs. To further foster Boise’s startup ecosystem, we created Trailhead, a collaborative working space for entrepreneurs to connect to the people and resources they need to succeed.

Boise’s economy holds a strong position compared to many of our counterparts around the country. According to the employment-services firm Manpower, Inc., a net 32 percent of Boise companies plan to hire new staff during the second quarter of 2015—highest in the nation and well above the national figure of 22 percent.

At the same time, we’re seeing warning signs in Boise. The entry rate for new businesses—firms less than one year old as a share of all companies—dropped by almost half in the Boise metro region over an eight-year period, from 15.2 percent in 2006 to 7.7 percent in 2012, according to the Kauffman Foundation. And nationally, the number of people under age 30 who own a business is at a 24-year low.

We know that large businesses account for great numbers of employment, but they are not the most consistent and sustainable job creators in our economy; startups are. Yet we also know that startups often fail. So as a municipal government, we need to do what we can to increase both the number and the success rate of early-stage companies.

Boise already has a business incubator, The Greenhouse, which has been highly successful in providing space for startups to make the transition to viable commercial enterprises. But within the past few years, a group of local entrepreneurs—Jason Crawforth, Karen Meyer and Faisal Shah—recognized the need to develop a support system and education for early-stage businesses even sooner in the process: for the big idea that needs refinement; for the budding entrepreneur who lacks experience; and for the new product that depends on a particular technology.

Trailhead will fill that niche, collaborating with Boise’s business ecosystem to connect entrepreneurs with the resources they need to advance their ideas. In the most practical sense, that means providing working spaces for idea generation, collaboration and refinement, as well as mentorship by people who have built their own startups.

These connections need to happen on a local level first, but Trailhead will also serve to connect Boise’s entrepreneurs to resources and mentors throughout the country. Trailhead’s national connections will help bring the ideas generated in one of the country’s most remote metro areas to people throughout the country and world.

One of Boise’s most prominent companies, once a fledgling startup itself, is Micron. Micron is an industry leader in the semiconductor and memory field, and its innovation has helped to connect Boise to the world. Micron has made a commitment to support Trailhead because the company sees the value of promoting innovation and creativity in the community. Micron’s connectedness to the world has helped to put Boise on the map, and the company’s support of Trailhead forms a partnership that will help our entrepreneurs connect to the brightest minds in Boise and beyond.

As we looked around the country for how other cities have taken on similar efforts, a few caught our eye. 1776 Managing Director David Zipper, whom I met at the Mayor’s Innovation Project, has shown us their space and their model, providing inspiration and guidance. In addition to 1776, Harvard iLab was an early inspiration to Trailhead’s executive director, Raino Zoller; as luck would have it, the director of Harvard iLab, Gordon Jones, has recently accepted an offer to serve as the dean of the new College of Innovation and Design at Boise State University and has joined Trailhead’s board of directors.

With this type of partnership—government assisting, and entrepreneurs leading the way—we are certain Trailhead is primed for success. In fact, we’ve been able to generate some interest already, both within Boise and outside of it. In partnership with Startup Grind Boise, we hosted Scott Kupor, COO at the renowned Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, for a standing-room-only event. In addition, Trailhead hosted a hackathon through the hugely successful Hackfort, a summit of Boise’s development, creative, and tech talent that was part of the fourth-annual Treefort cultural festival.

As Trailhead’s successes build and its connections with Boise’s creative and innovative entrepreneurial culture blooms, its growing profile will help open new doors across the nation for its entrepreneurs.

Boise’s vision is to be the most livable city in the country. We already enjoy a quality of life that attracts entrepreneurs and workers and their families from around the world, but our challenge is to make certain that no great idea slips away for want of a bit of advice, a dose of encouragement, or a perfect partner. Our community’s geographic isolation can be a source of tremendous inspiration that drives us to innovate and leverage the talents and experiences of our own entrepreneurial pioneers. Trailhead will help ensure that every great idea puts its best foot forward on a path to success.

David H. Bieter

Mayor, City of Boise, Idaho

David H. Bieter was born and raised in Boise, and for as long as he can remember he wanted to serve as mayor of his hometown. That goal was realized in…