Whole Oats?

by Osman Parvez

I pay attention to the business community in Boulder and have been a little surprised at the somewhat negative spin that local media has taken on news that Whole Foods (WFMI) is seeking to acquire Wild Oats (OATS). There's concern for Wild Oat's employees because of likely store closings and slimming of redundant business units. Some are wondering about the impact to the local economy. The spin is wrong. Here's why overall it's a very good thing for Boulder.

There's a virtuous cycle to entrepreneurship. When young successful companies like Wild Oats are acquired, many local business people will benefit from the change of control. The execution of an exit strategy usually leaves dozens of founders, key employees, and early investors free to pursue other endeavors and well capitalized to make it happen.

Energized by success, the former executives and investors in Wild Oats will go on to seed more start up companies, often not just one but several. They will also get involved with mentoring entrepreneurs through projects like TechStars, volunteer time and money to local non-profits, run for political office and do many things that benefit our community long term.

Successful entrepreneurs have a wonderful habit of giving back. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg, and Ted Turner immediately come to mind but stay local. Take Jared Polis, for example. Undoubtedly Blue Mountain Arts helped seed his success with ProFlowers. Among his many activities that benefit local communities in Colorado, witness the Jared Polis Foundation and its mission to encourage individuals and organizations to be proactive by supporting and pursuing education and technology in Colorado communities. Jared isn't alone. A quick glance at the roster of mentors in TechStars is a broader sample of entrepreneurs who are giving back to the community.

As for the concern over the future of the employees of Wild Oats, yes there will probably be store closings. At a quick glance, Whole Foods seems to have a more efficient model than Wild Oats and they've beeen able to grow quicker. Leaders at WFMI will probably conclude that Boulder can not support both a flagship Wild Oats and a soon to be expanded Whole Foods. Luckily our local job market is absolutely seething with opportunities. One local venture capitalist is actually holding a recruiting event for five of his portfolio companies. WMFI will hopefully do the right thing, giving employees are shown the door given an adequate severance and plenty of retraining opportunities.

The acquisition of Wild Oats will not damage Boulder's economy in the long term. Instead of lament, we should look to those who drove the success of recently acquired companies like Spectra Logic, RainDance Communications, McData, and soon Wild Oats to do great things in the future. The real question we should be asking is "what's next?"

p.s. Investors like the deal with WFMI jumping from the ~46 range to 52.

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