An Insider's Guide to the 2020 Fort Collins Startup Week

The event takes place in some of Fort Collins’ biggest venues Monday Feb. 24 to Friday, Feb. 28

As Colorado continues to grow as a hub for entrepreneurs, artisans, freelancers and startups, cities around the state are building their own communities to celebrate the innovation coming from these groups. This includes the state’s fourth largest city, Fort Collins, which is gearing up to celebrate its fifth annual Startup Week — starting Monday, Feb. 24 and carrying through Friday, Feb. 28. 

Though Fort Collins Startup Week initially started as a for-profit venture in 2014 (and ran for two years), the event was rebooted as a (free-to-attend) nonprofit venture in 2016 by local business leaders, Innosphere, Colorado State University (CSU), the City of Fort Collins and Techstars. This year’s event is organized by WTF Marketing, presented by the Poudre River Public Library District and hosted at a number of spaces around town.

ColoradoBiz sat down with Nick Armstrong, CEO of WTF Marketing, to learn more about the event including insider tips, must-attend events and what’s new in the events fifth year. 

The Fort Collins Difference 

While Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder all host their own startup weeks, Fort Collins has its own unique flavor. “We don’t have as much coworking space, we don’t have a lot of different incubators or other things like that operating in public,” Armstrong says. “What we do have is a huge swath of solopreneurs, a huge swatch of freelancers and that's you know partly due to the brain hub that is CSU.”

According to Armstrong, the northern Colorado city has hubs for a number of creative professionals and diverse industry clusters. This includes the city’s Music District, the Downtown Fort Collins Creative District, the Food Corridor, the Health District, the Innosphere, CSU’s Institute for Entrepreneurship and the Nancy Richardson Design Center.  

“What ends up happening is that often times, in the course of standard events, these things stay siloed,” Armstrong says. “And so startup week really helps to alleviate some of those things, by bringing together those different clusters and that really helps to serve the entrepreneur space well in Fort Collins.”

In addition, the startup week leverages resources from other Northern Colorado cities —  Greeley, Windsor and Loveland — to make the event more robust.

One of the big components of Fort Collins Startup Week, Armstrong says, is its spirit of “Give First.” This means that generosity and sharing knowledge is at the core of each session and event throughout the week.

What’s New in 2020 

Artup Week 

Due to the large volume of creative professionals in Fort Collins, Artup Week was introduced in 2017 as a subsidiary event. This year, the event is hosted completely by the Music District and Fort Collins Creative District. The events on this track are all meant to help artists, creators and everyone in between learn how to boost their enterprises and the creative industry as a whole. 

Diversity and Inclusion 

Similar to the 2019 Denver Startup Week, Fort Collins is placing an emphasis at its 2020 event on diversity and inclusion. This includes a new event track with more sessions on how diversity can improve your business and how you can implement inclusive practices; representation of diverse communities on the event’s board; and outreach to new communities.

Specifically, Armstrong says that the Startup Week team actively reached out to new communities and markets to ensure the events represented the needs of the whole Fort Collins community. This included outreach to the Latin and Native American Communities. This outreach not only led to new panel discussions, but new speakers as well.

Childhood Education

Also this year, a number of sessions focused on early childhood education were added. “We have a lot of teachers in our community and they don't necessarily identify as startups, but there are a lot of startups focused on teachers and teacher services here,” Armstrong says.

Must-Attend Events

The event this year has a robust schedule and figuring out what to attend can be a bit daunting. One way the organizers are helping with this is through a new Pathway Finder Pilot Program, created by Emily Sattlerlee, founder and CEO of ItyDity. The pathway finder is a 20-question quiz that recommends panels based on your interests, as well as events that could help expand your skill set. 

In addition, here are just some of the discussions, panels and events that Armstrong and his team recommend: 

  • CSU Venture Validator: Led by Scott Shrake, the director of the CSU Institute for Entrepreneurship, this panel will help you determine whether your idea can become a venture. 

  • Podcast Panel with Franklin Taggert: This panel will walk you through how podcasting can help build your brand, especially as a small business.

  • Work-Life Balance for Solo Business Owners: Hosted by Chrysta Bairre, this presentation is meant to help boost productivity, and relieve stress.

  • Hybrid Professionals: Hosted by Sarabeth Berk, this panel will discuss how people are blending and integrating multiple professional identities together. 

  • Inclusion in Marketing: A panel on why representation matters in marketing.

  • Creative Outfitters Expo: Part of the Artup Week festivities, this is an expo where you can get feedback on artist statements, press kits, contracts, graphic design and more.

  • Keynote: Penn Street: A keynote speech led by Client Relations Specialist from No Barriers USA on how new perspectives can change your vision and business. 

  • Create Your Startup Budget: This 90 minute lunch-and-learn will walk you through tactics to build your personal and business budgets and tips and tools for sticking to them.

Every event is free, but space is limited, so Armstrong recommends registering for events today. 

Tips for Attending 

While there is a lot to explore, the Startup week team attempted to make the sessions easy to navigate. “Each day is purposefully designed so that each session, all the venues, are within walking distance of each other,” Armstrong says. Monday and Tuesday will take place at CSU, Wednesday will take place at Front Range Community College and Thursday and Friday will take place at Innosphere and Block 1 Events.  

In addition, lunch is left open nearly every day so you can take a break, refresh, recharge and even network if you want. 

“I have also made sure that each session has some sort of actionable item,” Armstrong says. “So, if you're showing up, you'd better be able to learn something that you take home with you and that you can immediately put into play. If you don't, we've done something wrong.”

Overall, Armstrong says that showing up is the first step to success at Fort Collins Startup Week. “Show up, be generous with your time and attention, dive into topics that you wouldn't normally think of, and explore a bit,” he says.

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