1. New stuff launches there first: San Francisco is the center of the tech universe. Aside from the shine – and cost of living – that goes with this, it also means that new stuff gets tested there first. Lyft, Uber, AirBnB are all good examples of services I used regularly before most people even heard of them.
NotBeing part of it keeps you very connected to what’s next, gives you the chance to the Living New tech – like Shuddle, news; being in middle of it all; buses – using it early gave me better quality of life early. and created jobs earl
Or events every week. Or startups coming to market first in SF like Lyft and Shuddle or Shuttle for work. Or morning newspaper covering tech all the time. Or driving down the 101 and seeing signs for the biggest names in tech hiring.
I’ve been to countless pitch competitions in my life, ranging across industries, company stages and even international borders. Ultimately, they’ve all felt the same at some level; a crew of entrepreneurs chasing their dreams by pitching their business to a crowd of potential investors and customers. Until last night that is. The Digital Health Challenge, put on by Prime Health – but in essence supported by a whole community – put a fabulous twist on the age-old pitch event and because of it, several entrepreneurs went home with funding and pilot projects in hand.
Tech startups need money and customers, not necesssarily in that order. Digital health startups need both as well, except customers they are targeting don’t do anything quickly. And don’t deploy anything unproven – as in before it goes through several pilots. They need bost sites. And money.
17 participating centers, large to small, urban to rural, specialists to generalists. $150K from CO Health to fund
What ahppened to last years winners
I’m back at Denver Startup Week, this time at the Chase Base Camp to learn more about the Denver Gazelles – a program created and managed by Denver’s Office of Economic Development (OED). Started in 2012, it enables the city to partner with leaders of companies selected as a Gazelle…’to improve the Denver marketplace, promote Denver’s technology assets, and build a stronger network of like-minded winners’.
More simply said, the Gazelle program is in place to celebrate Denver’s biggest wins, or those companies highly destined to have a win that the world will notice. Money likes to follow money; in this case, the intent here is to show venture capitalists around country that Denver is a place to invest and reap rewards.
The session today celebrated the four most recently anointed Gazelles, who each shared their views and experiences related to building a venture-backed business in Denver. The companies included:
Scott McNealy, founder of Sun Microsystems (a Silicon Valley original), runs Wayin, and joined in today. He shared that he first fell in love with Denver when he was running Sun. He ultimately hired 4500 people here until, as he says, a guy with a very big boat bought the company and slowly left Denver behind. But
when he decided to start Wayin, it was obvious for him to launch in Denver. Not a bad testimonial.
Is the Gazelle Program working?
Sounds like a yes to me. Here is what we heard from these very accomplished leaders:
- While there may not necessarily be a bunch more VC firms in town than a few year back, there are plenty more angels to mine for early stage capital. In a city like Denver, angel money can be the ticket to getting a minimally viable product to market, or for validating traction in a first market segment.
- Perhaps more importantly, when entrepreneurs head to the Bay Area for money, being associated with Denver is no longer negatively perceived. Quite to the contrary, actually. Investors outside Denver now understand that the right resources are available here to scale, that locals bring the right work/life balance to the office, and of course that the underlying economics of operating here are excellent. Oh, and they no longer automatically think we are from Boulder anymore…
- Lastly, one panelist added that while Denver and Colorado as whole has moved aggressively up many ladders, it’s California’s complexities that have investors keen on investing in the right startups outside of CA. Out-of-control costs, business-unfriendly regulations and more are drivers that should make for a very crowded Gazelle program going forward.
I’m on the ground at Startup Week in Denver, a fast growing, city-wide event billed as the ‘largest free startup entrepreneur week in the world’.
Denver Startup Week offers an extremely well organized week of education, pitching, networking and lots of socializing to entrepreneurs (active and budding) across the Front Range. Having been in and around tech event production in a previous life, I can tell the logistics alone (never mind the content) can sink you. If you get a chance, try to support it and find your way here; this city does it up right.
While Denver may still be early in what promises to be a long, lucrative life as a startup hub, it is well on its way. Between its huge movements in Digital Health, the exponential growth in co-working spaces, the city’s growing wins in bringing late stage growth companies to Denver, and its own homegrown giants — Denver is now firmly on the startup map, as it simultaneously (no coincidence here) migrates from a Tier 2 to Tier 1 city.
Cannabis in the air
I started my tour of Startup Week in RiNo at one of the Cannabis related panels – this year may be the first that the industry is included – and learned about how several local startups are leveraging data, as cannabis makes it way to Main Street. There were plenty of people from California on hand, and several of the panelists were running local companies with 15-50 employees…both proof points that Denver continues to be the center of gravity in this controversial segment.
JumpStart Biz Plans Awards
Next up, the culmination of a city-organized competition (the Office of Economic Development to be specific) that, along with its sponsor partners, offered local early stage entrepreneurs a shot at a $30K prize. A little different from your average pitch battles, getting to the stage (for the top 3) required more than just a great idea – it required a well developed business plans. As one of the early-round judges, it took me a little bit to get used to assessing the plan, and not just the business, but ultimately this approach sent a strong message to the contestants that to succeed, you need a plan. A good one.
Health, tech and other segments are surely growing quickly in the local startup community, but at its core, Denver truly love its outdoors. Proving this out, 2 of the 3 finalists targeted the recreational market. , Guerrilla Gravity (a rider-direct mountain bike manufacturer), Ubergrippen (an upcoming state-of-the-art climbing center) and Arthoventions (medical devices for treating osteoarthritis) took the stage today in front of packed room and 5 local, accomplished judges.
Only in Denver moment: An executive at the OED introduced this track, with all the thank you’s one would expect. But he finished with what you might only expect in Denver, telling everyone that the refreshments at the back of the room were infused with marijuana…to help get everyone in the right state of mind. Said with a big smile of course, still I respected his choice to celebrate rather than hide behind this highly debated but real element of Denver’s national brand.
Teen BizPlan Competition
I love any tech event that reaches into High School, giving the leaders – and consumers – of the future the chance to flex their entrepreneurial muscles. With a couple of teenagers of my own, I can attest they know more about what they want, and about what is missing, that we might think. JumpStart worked with organizations like Junior Achievement Rocky Mountain and others, to find and mentor teenagers – including the 3 selected to be on stage today.
With five minutes each to present their business idea, no Q&A and voting from the crowd, 3 incredibly prepared and brave teenagers took the stage to share their vision:
CareCorps: Connects high school students and parents of young kids, for arranging babysitting and tutoring. The difference being they connect them based on skills, GPA averages and respective likes – so that both sides of the equation can benefit. And the idea is that the student doesn’t simply ‘sit’ but rather engages, and tutors the child.
Artists Unsolicited – This high schooler loves art but worries that artists and the non-profits behind many of them, are underfunded. The idea here is to build a platform – a voice – for the artists, and simplify the community’s ability to get behind their artists.
Sport Cabanas – Parents today do too much planning and organizing around their kids’ sporting events…and not enough time enjoying them. Their answer – outsource it, and have Sport Cabanas set up and rent you canopies, chairs and even weather-specific beverages.
Well done to all.
Winners of the Day
Adult JumpStart: Guerrilla Gravity
Teen JumpStart: Sport Cabanas
One of the things I have enjoyed most about Denver this past year has been getting to know its wide variety of ‘micro’ entrepreneurs. To me these are local folks who – while in many cases still holding down day (or night) jobs – are trying their hand at a skill, craft or passion to see if dreams really can come true. Denver, unlike cities like San Francisco, offers a cost structure where people with small margins for error can still takes risks. And now the City of Denver, or specifically its Office of Economic Development (OED), is offering one lucky entrepreneur more than $30,000 worth of growth capital and services to help break out of their garage.