Posted: October 15, 2014
A startup state of mind
From Fort Collins to Durango, support for new business aboundsGigi Sukin
With the right dose of technology, experience and ambition, entrepreneurs can set up shop just about anywhere nowadays. Still, one thing hasn’t changed.
“Creating companies from nothing is hard – period,” said Brad Feld, co-founder and managing director of Boulder-based Foundry Group LLC, a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage information technology.
But from corner to corner of Colorado, the collective startup swagger is evident. Businesses are materializing with support from meet-ups, pitch competitions, incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces and other startup forums.
“Data shows that startups are major contributors of new jobs in the economy,” said Jason Schrock, chief economist, Colorado Governor’s Office of State Planning. “Though a lot of new businesses fail, those that survive grow more rapidly than older businesses. Colorado’s relatively higher proportion of new and young firms among states is likely one factor why Colorado has had one of the fastest rates of overall job growth among states in recent years. It is also important to note that (startups) are important for innovation and productivity gains, and thus improved living standards over time.”
In particular, four Front Range cities with a unified vision of expanding entrepreneurship have developed separate but complementary startup-centric weeklong events, complete with networking, information dumps and celebrations for bold businesspeople to learn, share and get inspired.
“I think Startup Week is a hugely powerful thing which, having been created in Boulder six years ago, is now being spread around the world,” Feld said. “The visibility, both inside Colorado and around the world, of real companies being created here is one of the most powerful vectors of continued recognition, which begets more engagement, which generates more growth. All of a sudden you have cross-fertilization and connectivity between Boulder and Denver that is very powerful and deep, with stuff flowing both directions. Over time, we should look to have a powerful interconnected startup community across the state.”
2014 Startup Events
Boulder Startup Week
Year 5, May 12-16
Boulder Startup Week debuted its five-day showcase back in 2010, sprinkling a series of free meet-ups, socials, panels and more on subjects from social impact to development to design. One highlight is the fly-in program.
“Fly-ins or potential recruits apply to travel from around the country to Boulder Startup Week and are introduced to all the companies around town,” said Matthew Sisson, former creative director of PivotDesk, who participated in the fly-in program in 2011 and has since co-founded Pixel Space, a venture that seeks to connect out-of-town entrepreneurs to local businesses year-round.
Fort Collins Startup Week
Year 1, May 20-25
Last summer, a study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation put Fort Collins-Loveland in the No. 2 slot on its list of Top 10 Metro Areas for high-tech startup density. Attracting more than 3,200 people from 16 states and Puerto Rico, Fort Collins’ first-ever Startup Week was structured similarly to Boulder and Denver’s multi-day events. It culminated with the finals of the Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenges and Venture Fest, a collaboration between Blue Ocean and Colorado State University’s Institute for Entrepreneurship. The business pitch competition winner, Loveland-based Decibullz, walked away with a $250,000 prize.
Blue Ocean will also be teaming up with Denver-based Galvanize to recreate the co-working, incubator and tech-school trifecta in Northern Colorado, set to open next year.
Denver Startup Week
Year 3, Sept. 15-20
Denver Startup Week has sought community feedback in planning each year’s event, and this year roughly 9,500 votes were cast to determine the week’s worth of scheduling in four areas: business, technology, design and manufacturing – 140 events, all free.
“We are the largest free entrepreneurial event in North America,” touted Ben Deda, DSW co-chair and vice president of business Development at FullContact.
The official kickoff Sept. 15 at the Seawell Ballroom will feature keynote speaker Dave McClure, founder of San Fransisco-based 500 Startups, a Web-based seed fund and incubator.
Last year, more than 325 mentorship sessions were held at Basecamp launched by Chase on the 16th Street Mall. The 2014 edition will place Basecamp on the first floor of 1515 Arapahoe St. for passersby to check out speakers, entertainment, networking opportunities and more.
“Between the density of high-tech talent and the youthful nature of this city … even if I were starting up another company, I’d still pick Denver,“ said Jeff Binder, co-founder of Denver-based Layer3 TV Inc.
Colorado Springs Startup Week
Year 1, SEPT 19-26
Colorado Springs’ first-ever Startup Week is slated for late September. On deck for the event: a long menu of events including talks on raising capital and an examination of startup failures.
Chris Franz, CEO and president of Atrium Capital Markets Group and co-chair of CSSW, is also part of a new tech community that includes entrepreneurs from across the state who meet monthly to “coalesce the startup communities,” and “replicate the things that were successful in other communities.”
quick Q & A
A viewpoint on startups from SW Colorado
GARY MASNER of Durango is CEO of Advanced Mobile Propulsion Testing and the founder of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs (SCAPE)
CoBiz: From your vantage point, is the state equally served for businesses to start up?
GM: “Colorado is a place where entrepreneurs can thrive and be supported to make their dreams happen. But I’m realistic. I don’t think [the state] has done as much as it should or could to really foster available equity capital and venture funding. We’re getting more. But it’s not just the major city centers that need it. The Denver-Boulder corridor is already pretty well served. But how about the more geographically isolated places? When you’re thinly populated, you need a catalyst. [The biggest challenge is] access to capital; anyone will tell you that’s what drives the community.”
Gigi Sukin is an Associate Editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.