Denver Startup Week (DSW) came to an end last Friday, and this year’s event was bigger and better than ever. Every year, the event manages to break another attendance record and 2017 was no different. Organizers announced this year’s event had 18,900 registered attendees (a 42 percent increase from 2016), 372 events across 81 venues, and more than 99MM social media impressions. DSW is now the largest free entrepreneurial event in the U.S.
With results like this, it’s easy to conclude that Denver is offering the right environment for the startup community. But, what exactly is the cause of Denver’s success?
You may assume there’s something in the water that creates a mutation for innovation in the minds of Denverites, but after speaking with two of my colleagues that attended the event, it seems a lot is happening to make Denver the startup hub it is today.
Matrix Marketing Group’s CEO, George Schildge, has been going to DSW since 2012 and attended this year. He was accompanied by another colleague from Burlington, Jon Torrey. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing both of them to discuss their key takeaways from this year’s event and get some insight into the growth of Denver’s startup community.
Let’s dive into why Denver’s startup community is a breeding ground for innovation based on our experiences at the 2017 Denver Startup Week.
The Perfect Storm for Startups
Overwhelming Passion for Startups
One of the highlights of the week was a session with Mark Cuban, a businessman and tv personality, and Charlie Ergen, the cofounder of DISH, hosted by venture capitalist Brad Feld. During the discussion, Mark Cuban said that to find success with a startup you don’t just love what you do, you obsess over it. It should be your utmost passion.
This kind of passion was alive and well at the 2017 Denver Startup Week. George said, “The passion for startups is electrifying. To see that many people involved from totally different backgrounds is both shocking and inspiring.”
George especially experienced the community’s passion during the event’s pitch competitions.
He said, “I love being exposed to new trends, new companies, and new management teams that are emerging in Denver’s community. The pitches get better every year as younger entrepreneurs learn from mentors and take advantage of the immense amount of information available through digital mediums.”
The pitch competitions showcase up-and-comers in the community and allow them to pitch their ideas to a select group of judges. The participants receive valuable feedback, while also having the chance to share their ideas with a broad audience – many of whom are Colorado’s top angel investors, venture capitalists, and startup founders.
One of the competitions, the TiE Rockies DSW Pitch Competition, has already chosen a winner for 2017: Secure Medication Systems LLC and its locking prescription vials. The company is hoping to reduce teen drug abuse by providing more secure packaging for prescription medicine.
Spirit of Collaboration and Mentorship
Jon had the unique perspective of attending DSW as an ambassador. While this limited his ability to attend the smaller daily events, he and the other ambassadors (~50 people) attended multiple company tours with some of Denver’s top startups: SendGrid, Ibotta, and GoSpotCheck. Jon said his greatest takeaway from the event was the inclusion and culture within these companies and across the startup community as a whole.
Jon said, “I had CEOs coming up to me, handing me their business cards, and offering their assistance if I ever needed it. It was a very welcoming and open environment.”
He added, “Denver is doing it right by being humble and open. I think that is the formula for success in the future.”
George has been intertwined with the startup communities in Boulder and Denver since the 80s, and he couldn’t agree more. When I asked him what makes Denver special, he replied, “First and foremost, Denver has a helping mentality. I think Denver’s startup community has more of the builder mentality and less of the turn and burn of Silicon Valley.”
The “helping mentality” of the community made the networking events a hub for collaboration. If networking events are not well-organized, it can be difficult to actually connect and learn from the overwhelming number of attendees, but Jon said this was not the case during Denver Startup Week. It was quite the opposite.
Events like the DSW Opening Bash allowed him to effortlessly mingle with major players in the startup community. He said, “There was so much energy and passion in the room and everyone was so excited about sharing their ideas and experiences, that it made it incredibly easy to walk around and meet people.”
At the end of the week, the companies and people at DSW had proven that being willing and open to helping others is highly important to finding success. The major players have embraced that idea in their culture and identity and encourage their employees to embrace it as well.
The City Itself
Beyond the helping mentality and the community’s passion for startups, the city of Denver has everything it needs to attract top talent and booming businesses. From its lifestyle to its academic network, it is hard to think anyone would not want to settle here.
The Denver lifestyle is hard to beat. The city, and Colorado as a whole, has the landscape to support endless outdoor activities, like hiking, sightseeing, and skiing. The food scene offers a variety of cuisines for even the pickiest foodies, and the “Denver Beer Triangle” includes more than 72 breweries to meet the needs of craft beer lovers.
The city’s bustling downtown is easy to navigate, holds plenty of parks, and supports vibrant arts and music scenes. Not to mention, the city experiences around 300 days of sunshine while still getting plenty of fresh powder on the mountains.
The universities and colleges in the area have also plugged into the startup community, encouraging entrepreneurship among their students. For example, Comcast and the University of Colorado at Denver partnered up to create the Comcast Media and Technology Center. The facility allows UC Denver students to work with faculty and Comcast personnel to collaborate on projects and research to solve industry problems. These types of programs build the talent pool by sparking interest in technology and preparing students to become active contributors to the future of the startup world.
Attracting Talent and Investors
The right environment is key for attracting the right talent, and we know the best talent is needed to create a bustling startup community. Denver and the passion and mentality of the people in the city’s startup landscape are pulling in fresh, ambitious talent daily, as well as a slew of investors looking for investment opportunities.
Within Jon’s group of ambassadors, he said three of them were young, talented millennials already planning to move to Denver and a few more were investors and advisors that had heard Denver was a hotbed for innovation.
Overall, the 2017 Denver Startup Week proved there is a strong startup community in Denver that promises many more years of innovation to come.