Fort Collins: Not just a beer-brewing college town

There's a lot of hot tech happening in FoCo

Fort Collins. FoCo. What do you think of when you think of the Front Range’s northern city?

How about tech entrepreneurial brilliance? Boulder and Denver have long been known as hubs for this kind of activity, but are they the only cities making waves on the pages of Fast Company and screens of Mashable? Fort Collins might be disguised as a beer-brewing college town, but there are great things happening on the Fort Collins tech front. It’s time we sit up and pay attention.

It takes several things to grow an entrepreneurial community, critical nodes in an ecosystem that together have brought places like Boulder and Denver to the national forefront of tech innovation. One is an educated workforce. Fort Collins, as a university town, has it in spades. A number of large tech companies realize this, and see the secret sauce in Fort Collins that constitutes a quality of life, which attracts creative, tech-minded talent. Intel, HP and AMD—three monster tech companies—make their home in Fort Collins. Intel, recently celebrated by the governor for installing one of the largest commercial solar projects in Colorado, is known for the investment in its communities. Money is the second critical node.

What follows is the third critical node: community groups. Meetups and Startup Weekends are bellwethers for tech communities and Fort Collins hosts over 30 Meetup groups and a thriving Startup Weekend. Meetups gather regularly to focus on coding, entrepreneurship, geo development and other general-tech related topics. They build programs and partnerships amongst like-minded individuals, supporting further growth of the Fort Collins tech scene. There is literally a Meetup (or two, or three) happening each day of the week in Fort Collins.

During FOCO Startup Week in May, entrepreneurs of all stripes came out to spark ideas and listen to keynote speaker Eric Schurenberg, editor of Inc. magazine talk about what it takes to launch a successful business.

The fourth node is what entrepreneurs sometimes refer to as critical mass: conglomerating ideas with education (both formal and mentor-based) that propel ideas and startups into products and businesses. Enter Galvanize: a creative co-working and educational space built specifically to create critical mass around tech entrepreneurship. Many credit Galvanize for launching Denver into the tech entrepreneurship stratosphere, and Fort Collins now has a Galvanize campus as well.

The fifth node is demonstrable know-how. Street cred. Proof to the rest of the world that a tech entrepreneurship community has the calluses and has felt the hard knocks of getting something launched. Pikr Knows and Stay-CO Flow, two start-ups from Fort Collins, recently formed in and won two of the top three spots in the second annual Go Code Colorado, a statewide apps and business challenge that asks the business community to put forth challenges they would like the tech entrepreneurial community to solve. Following an open-call Challenge Weekend, ten finalist teams from across the state attend an intensive Mentor Weekend in Boulder to hone their app and business ideas, and the top three teams were awarded $25,000 each to take the next step with their app and business ideas.

The two Fort Collins teams emerged as two of the three best in the statewide competition.

One of Pikr Knows’ leaders actually won the Go Code Colorado competition leading a Fort Collins team last year, too. No other entrepreneur in the Go Code Colorado competition can make that claim. Pikr Knows consists of five total team members, four of which were application developers for Intel. They developed a tourism app that suggests activities based on user preferences. Users offer personally identifiable information in exchange for suggestions of interesting things to do. This visibility informs businesses as to how they might adjust their business models, offerings and marketing/sales efforts to maximize profitable and sustainable revenue.

The Stay-CO team developed an incentive-based mobile app, called Flow that is designed to encourage and validate responsible commuting behavior. The team consists of three team members, two of which are geo-application developers with dtsgis in Fort Collins. The other teammate is a mathematical mind that develops financial and traffic algorithms. Fort Collins is a strong geospatial community: Colorado State University is ranked as one of the top schools for geospatial studies in the country. GIS careers are growing at a rate of 35 percent annually, and Fort Collins’ emphasis on clean energy, water research and software/hardware development makes it a top attracter for geospatial talent—yet another blooming node in their tech ecosystem.

Pikr Knows and Flow proved to a panel of Denver judges and the entire Colorado community that Fort Collins doesn’t just belong on the main stage of tech innovation in Colorado. They proved ownership.

Categories: Tech