Trip Report: "Innovate! and Celebrate" by and Google for Entrepreneurs Trailblazers

Report by Marc Nager, Managing Director, Telluride Venture Accelerator

I spent the past week in the Bay Area attending two startup events with two primary personal goals:

1) build and add to my network that might potentially help companies we’re working with at TVA and

2) explore what founders we might be able to help via any of our programs in Telluride.

Should you be an entrepreneur, investor or stakeholder, I hope these trip reports continue to offer some insight into what it’s like on the ground at these events as a fairly well connected person in the startup world. 


Google for Entrepreneur’s 4th annual Trailblazers Summit:

~25 co-working spaces, 4 accelerators, a few global event leaders and key Googlers gather each year to extend the mission of supporting entrepreneurs around the world. I led a session that was quite well received for the group on helping maintain a genuine sense of community as you scale.  

Key speakers:


  • Mary Grove: Mary is probably one of the most humble and impressive leaders I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. She’s always composed, professional, and just classy in everything she does and says. It’s been wonderful to see Mary and her team do so many amazing things and influence the entire company over the past 5 years. Want to know what Google is focused on today? It’s Virtual Reality, Machine Learning, Mobile Messaging, and servicing their Next Billion Users.
  • Erik Schmidt: Erik was very clear in his beliefe that “the solution to every known problem is more entrepreneurs.” Clearly one of the most influential people on the planet today, it was a real statement that he continually takes the time to support entrepreneurs, startups, and the relatively small group inside Google, and in turn he succeeds in doing an incredible job supporting the global startup movement. Leaders from all walks and professions should take note and understand why this passion drives him.
  • Dianne from Waze: Dianne dove into the nitty gritty of some growth examples of how Waze is rapidly growing and on a mission to help reduce the number of cars and save people-time around the world. Lots of great growth hacking tips I took away including one fun one: At Waze, as they expand internationally, they have to translate a lot of their key messages in their app stores. They used to get one person on the ground to translate what they know works in English and run with it. Now they get 5 translations and test them all. 100% of the time, it is not the one anyone would have guessed. A simple move like this can have an impact of over 10% on conversations for Waze. They do a similar thing with little country flag logos now on the Waze icon and saw dramatic impact on conversion in most countries…. Don’t take the little things for granted.
  • Cat Hoke from Defy Ventures: The most moving by far. She is proving the power of entrepreneurship. She convinced me that the US has the worst prison system among developed countries in the world. 76.6% of those released from our prison systems end up back in prison – a recidivism rate nearly double most of the rest of the world. Cat believes this is one of the most systemic issues behind racism as well, since a vast majority of those in our prison systems are black or Hispanic males. “Imagine being labeled and judged publicly for the rest of your life on the single worst thing you’ve ever done.” Seriously, think about that for a second. Through Cat’s programs, she’s proven that she can take the 76% rate of recidivism down to ~4%! WOW. How does she do it? Simple – she invests time to helping these people expand their creative expressions, good ideas,  and insights. She does this by helping them become entrepreneurs and create their own businesses, which they are ready to run as soon as they are released from prison.

Innovate! and Celebrate2016 By and Consumer Technology Association (CTA – who runs CES, the largest consumer tech show on the planet)

  • CTA’s forecast & exploration of the consumer tech industry. Worth noting:
  • "5 Technologies to Watch" Report: they release an annual report on key growing technologies driving the industry. I’ve got a copy at the TVA office if you want to take a look.  They are: digital assistants, VR, medical tech, transportation tech, and sports tech.
  • Consumer sentiment is neutral coming into this holiday season and the CTA chief economist predicts that we’ll see slight growth over 2017. Did you know that 68% of US adults will probably buy a technical device for themselves or someone else this holiday season?  
  • Panel of massive companies like Intel Capital, Local Motors, and IBM.
  • China has more people in school than the US has citizens. The Minister of Education in China recently mandated that all students will take courses in AR/VR.  We can all agree that this is one of the most influential technologies that will impact everyone in the world in coming years. It’s hard to imagine that with progressive policies like this, China won’t control the world and the underlying technologies that run it. 
  • Kevin from Local Motors is 3D printing cars and reducing the design-to-production cycle from 7 years in the industry to two months. Talk about disruption. He also imagines a world where every city street, parking lot, garage is completely reinvented in just the next 30 years. Did you know that if you account for every registered vehicle in the US and the time it is actually driving, we have under a 5% utilization rate? So in theory we’re operate at about a 95% inefficiency. Imagine a world where cars don’t eat up a massive chunk of our wealth, clog our roads, dictate our cityscapes, etc. It’s coming, and it’s coming much faster than anyone might think.  Are you ready? Is your local government? Is your business?
  • 5G internet and wireless services will start rolling out by the end of next year. This is a core infrastructure to supporting almost every other technology on the forefront today and connecting more than 50 billion devices in just 3 years. Speeds will be as high as 3GB/s and have incredibly low latency rates. 
  • AR & VR will completely disrupt the electronics industry. The world of devices, displays and hardware will not look the same in 10 years. We’re moving to a world not dependent on screens and hardware at all. This is exciting in that it will potentially impact the way we use natural resources, which are currently being extracted to make the billions of devices out there today. It could be a massive win for the environment and our planet that I never considered.
  • Agriculture – they have proven that using high-tech water delivery on farms in the US, we can reduce water consumption by up to 99%... yes 99%! Irrigation is perhaps one of the largest environmental wastes in every single country on this planet. Hurray. We can’t move fast enough on things like this, even if it’s only a fraction of what is theoretically possible.
  • Startup of the Year competition: 1k applications from across the country led to 50 Finalists and one winner. I was a Judge for the competition and got to talk with many of the finalists.  
  • VanJet Factory Tour with my former co-founder, Clint Nelsen: Clint is incredible at identifying opportunities. He’s onto something that I think will not only be a successful company, but that could impact how we think about travel, vacations, and even short term living situations.

People: I love reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Here are some worth noting:

Pascal Finette from Singularity University, former leader at Mozilla. You know those people who just make you feel inspired about everything no matter what the conversation? That’s Pascal. He also loved my Western Rise coat and is going to buy one. 

Sandro Gianella from Google’s Policy team. Turns out he grew up very near where my family is from in Switzerland. We both discovered through conversation that many of Google’s ambitious project launches started in obscure small towns with fun stories…. Cooking up something for Telluride!?

Leslie Jump and Mack Kolrich from Startup Angels. The Private equity market potential is almost 100X that of current Venture Capital market in the US. If we can find ways to better tap into capital out there to fuel entrepreneurship, it could be the single best way to address transfer of wealth, social mobility, and of course innovation in the US. I believe in their mission.

Adam Klein from American Underground. One of the most progressive and action oriented leaders in the startup world with regards to increasing ethnic and gender diversity. Truly an inspiration.

Ryan Sturgill from Gaza Sky Geeks – Thought building a startup was hard in the US? Try doing it in Gaza. This organization proves the potential of entrepreneurship. They need mentors to visit them and work with their startups, so consider getting involved!

Joey from Coalition for Queens – Teaching people to code in the minority neighborhood of Queens.  Taking people from $18k/yr to over $80k/yr jobs on average through their courses. Truly inspiring.

Lawrence Mandes from Galavanize. Can’t say enough good things about Galvanize and their approach. Lawrence and I are scheming a heli ski group for this winter…

Fadi Bishara from Blackbox Connect – supporting entrepreneurs from around the world by bringing them to Silicon Valley. He’s got such a refreshing and grounded vision of how to help entrepreneurs. I respect every insight he has because he’s on the ground and in the trenches every day with founders.

Brian Gorbett – leading marketing for Microsoft’s cloud platform, and formerly with Google Cloud, I’ve known Brian for about 6 years. He’s your model evangelist for tech products.  He also knows just about every accelerator and early stage investor in the US too.


Companies: I talked to at least 30 companies over the course of 2 days. Here are some of the ones I was most excited by:

Betagig – job shadowing platform. Why haven’t we considered making job shadowing a requirement before accepting a job, especially for new graduates? Simple and powerful way to reduce incredible waste of time, energy, and money in the HR industry for almost every company of every size.

CultivatingCoders: Working with Native American tribes to teach people how to code and get high paying jobs.

Peanut Butter: A platform that allows employers seeking talent to offer student loan repayment as an incentive. Could have a huge economic and social impact if this were a standard offering in the US, and it could be an amazing advantage for companies competing for talent.

ProxBox: Simple & clever way to digitize and improve the real estate experience for agents, home buyers, and sellers around the world.

InsiderBookings: I could have probably saved tens of thousands over the years if this travel service existed. Seems too good to be true, but testing it out soon!



We need to take real action with our education systems in America. We need to solve the student loan paradox, and we need to educate every student in the country for the skills that will actually matter in the next 20+ years. After hearing about China, and experiencing similar efforts in countries across the world, it’s clear that education could be the single largest point of failure for America as a hub of innovation and therefore a global leader. The private market can only pick up so much of the slack.

Recruiting for TVA at tech events like is better than I thought, especially if they are pulling in companies from outside the Bay Area.

The Bay Area mentality is in the crosshairs. The romanticism and optimism I remember feeling when I showed up to the tech scene in SF in 2008 is all but a memory. I can’t tell you how many skeptical people I talked with that live there.

Autonomous vehicles are going to change transportation. Our cities and their leaders can’t afford to ignore how drastically it will impact so much of the infrastructure they are in charge of today. Government has the opportunity to make this an amazing thing to solve many obvious challenges like traffic, parking, transit programs, safety, pollution, and environmental impact.  This is probably one of the most exciting changes that will impact our lives in a very positive way that my generation will get to fully experience.

With limited fiber access in Telluride, we should consider 5G over hard wire broadband to every home in town.