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Posted: September 24, 2013

Denver Startup Week’s message of hope

Attendees celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit

Gigi Sukin

Silicon Valley’s “fail fast” mantra advises hopeful entrepreneurs that giving up sooner means less time and money wasted on a dream that's going nowhere.

But the more than 5,000 attendees at the second annual Denver Startup Week got a different message entirely.

“(Forget) failing fast,” said Bart Lorang, CEO and co-founder of Denver-based startup success story FullContact. “Choose not to fail.”

Dubbed by its organizers — the Downtown Denver Partnership, Colorado Technology Association (CTA) and JPMorgan Chase — as the largest event of its kind,  Denver Startup Week showcased the spirit of the startup community in Denver and beyond.

“This event is pretty rare,” said entrepreneur Seth Godin, the keynote speaker at last Monday’s kickoff luncheon. “It’s not just rare for me, it’s rare for the world.”

Godin told the crowd to focus on a niche rather than making fruitless attempts to appeal to the masses.

“If you tell me that you are making something for everyone, you are making something for no one,” said Godin, whose latest professional undertaking, social content platform Squidoo, is one of the nation's  most popular websites.

Convercent CEO Patrick Quinlan expressed his desire to avoid emulating Silicon Valley and instead see businesses embrace the “unique culture in Colorado.”

That theme appeared in many of Startup’s breakout events, lectures and casual conversations. Top selling points included quality of life; top-notch talent and well-educated work force; laid-back, humble, outdoors-y residents; and of course, the craft beer scene.

Here, “it’s all about the intersection of lifestyle and commerce,” said speaker and organizer Chuck Sullivan of Something Independent.

Funding

According to a recent Colorado Innovation Network (COIN) report on small entrepreneurial startup efforts in the state, “The survival rate of Colorado businesses is low and gets worse as they age.”

Erik Mitisek, CEO of CTA said that 90 percent of businesses fail.

"There are few entrepreneurs who you’ll talk to who graduated college and built successful business after successful business," he said. "It’s part of the culture when you engage as an entrepreneur and take on the responsibility of following your dreams, to know that the risk of failure is higher than that of success.”

But investors are still willing to take a risk. Peter Adams, executive director of Denver-based Rockies Venture Club (RVC), told his  Are You Ready to Raise Capital? workshop attendees that investment dollars are out there.

"It’s just a matter of educating, coordinating and facilitating," he said.

Adams said that across the Front Range, there are 12,000 accredited investors, meaning individuals with a net worth of $1 million or more; however, only 300 are active.

“Angel investors who invest intelligently should be getting a 25 percent return on their portfolios,” Adams said.

Last year, RVC pitched 100 companies, of which 24 received total funding of more than $15 million and the created more than 200 jobs. This year, $110.4 million was invested in 21 Colorado companies in the second quarter, up from $79 million for 17 companies in Q1.

“While the Front Range is a great startup community, we still have work to make the startup community statewide," Adams said. "It’s tough to start up a new venture in Vail, Aspen, Durango, Telluride, Salida (or) Grand Junction.”

Mentorship programming allowed interested participants to meet with 60 local and national CEOs, developers and founders.

“Coloradans are incredibly give-get focused,” said Tami Door, president and CEO at the Downtown Denver Partnership. “It’s very inclusive. If you were trying to build a business, you’d want mentorship from someone who’s already built a successful startup. Even the very best, from the hottest companies made their calendars open to the community.”

JPMorgan Chase contributed $150,000 to create the event's centralized gathering hub, Basecamp, in a 3,000-square-foot former restaurant on 16th Street Mall.

Chase Community Giving and Denver Startup Week asked for votes on which nonprofit groups should get part of a donated $150,000.  The six Colorado charities chosen Friday were: the Cottonwood Institute, Kids Tek, Mi Casa Resource Center, Urban Peak, Women’s Beans Project and Young Americans Center for Financial Education.

Southwest Airlines hosted a business idea competition, and the Denver Office of Economic Development honored a group of high-growth "Gazelles,” including Convercent, FullContact, Placeable, Sympoz and WellTok Inc. Within the last 18 months, the companies collectively raised more than $57 million in capital.

Other noteworthy events included: the Denver Founders Network Startup Week Edition; Ignite Denver; and BDNT – Boulder, Denver New Tech Meetup, with special guest Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Here's a full list of events from last week’s festivities.

Gigi Sukin is an Associate Editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at gsukin@cobizmag.com.

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