Last week Startup Colorado hosted the Startup America Regional Summit which was a gathering of the leadership of over 25 different Startup State efforts under the structure of the Startup America Partnership. Over 100 people came and we had an awesome two days of discussions which was summarized wonderfully by Christian Renaud (CEO of Present.io and a principal of StartupCity Des Moines) in his post What I learned in Boulder.
After the event, David Mangum, the executive director for Startup Colorado and I were discussing what we had accomplished since launching in November 2011 and I asked him to write up a guest post to summarize. Following are his thoughts. Comments welcome – and if you want to get involved, just email me.
Startup Colorado publicly launched in November 2011, but we began the behind-the-scenes strategy and planning in August, which means that we’ve been going for nearly a year. As Startup Colorado’s Executive Director, I look back on our inaugural efforts with a few observations about what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what we hope to improve as we move into our second year.
We launched Startup Colorado as a movement to spur new company creation across the state, with first year emphasis on Colorado’s Front Range. Our mission has been to increase the breadth and depth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem by multiplying connections among entrepreneurs and mentors, improving access to entrepreneurial education, and building a more vibrant entrepreneurial community.
Four key principles have animated our efforts: (1) for our initiatives to be successful, they require entrepreneurs to lead; (2) we must think and act with a long-term view; (3) we seek to engage entrepreneurs at all levels of experience and success; and (4) the influx of talent is a cornerstone of strengthening a startup ecosystem.
Startup Colorado kicked off with a handful of tractable projects:
- Create an entrepreneurial summer camp in Boulder
- Expand new tech meetups and open coffee clubs in Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs
- Support entrepreneurial education in the Front Range
- Evaluate current barriers facing entrepreneurs, including an assessment of best practices within entrepreneurial communities around the US and world
- Engage larger companies in the entrepreneurial ecosystem through commitments to help entrepreneurs
- Build the Startup Colorado website to be a user-friendly, thorough database for information and connections
Perhaps our most promising project is the “entrepreneurial summer camp,” renamed Startup Summer. Startup Summer kicked off in late May with 14 college students/2012 college grads working in paid internships for Boulder-area startups. In addition to the full-time internship, Startup Summer offers its participants a variety of evening entrepreneurship events, most important of which is a weekly class on entrepreneurial topics taught by local entrepreneurs, founders, CEOs, and community leaders. Participating interns also will be given the opportunity to work with an area mentor to develop their own business ideas. Startup Summer required a lot of program construction, promotion, applicant recruiting, and company/intern matching and it would not have happened without ample support from Tim Enwall and our top notch Program Coordinator, Eugene Wan. Perhaps more than any other project, this one embodies our core principles: we have a range of entrepreneurial leaders teaching classes and working with the interns, and we are building the program as a way to seed the next generation of Colorado entrepreneurs and strengthen the talent pipeline into the state’s startup ecosystem.
We also have made considerable progress in developing a stronger network of meetups in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Fort Collins. Jan Horsfall and Chris Franz, in conjunction with Peak Venture Group, have invigorated the Colorado Springs meetup system, going from a meetup of 15-20 people last fall to, most recently, 175 people (http://www.meetup.com/PVG-Pitch-Night/). They also are spearheading an open coffee club. In Denver, Erik Mitisek, Jon Rossi, Andrei Taraschuk, and the various meetup organizers have been pushing for greater meetup coherence and organization, including at the Denver New Tech Meetup. Jon Nordmark also has been leading an open coffee club in Denver. After several months of false starts, we also have had exciting progress in Fort Collins with Christine Hudson, who is tackling the Fort Collins New Tech Meetup.
Another exciting project in the works (and not one originally planned) is the Startup Colorado Legal Roundtable, where a handful of local law firms will give free legal advice to a select group of startup founders and CEOs. If you’re a startup entrepreneur interested in this offering, please email me at [email protected].
Other projects have been more challenging, though we have not given up on anything.
One project that may yet take flight is the entrepreneurship education project. Over the past year we talked to many high school teachers and other education non-profits, but did not find a clear project leader to take things and run with them. Steve Halstedt and Dan Caruso recently stepped up with an interest in getting more involved at individual high schools, and we may try to support each of them with teams of MBA and JD students to help run logistics and execution. Our current view is to develop a “startup entrepreneurship” curriculum to be taught afternoons or weekends for high school students, supplement the classes with mentors, and encourage students to develop their own business ideas.
Two other projects that have been harder to get off the ground are engaging bigger companies to help startups and building the Startup Colorado website to be a central resource and connector for entrepreneurs and mentors. Our bigger company engagement project could use more assistance both in connecting to more companies and in helping to manage existing offerings from companies like ViaWest (free hosting for startups). For the website, we have a few ideas for content improvement, including a regional spotlight on what’s happening across the Front Range, entrepreneurs interviewing other entrepreneurs, and more.
Overall, the first year has gone as we expected: some projects would gain traction quickly, some would be a bit wobbly but viable, and some will require more effort. The most important feature of individual project success has been the willingness of multiple people to step up and volunteer a meaningful amount of time to help.
We expect to amplify our efforts to ensure that the next Startup Summer is even better than this year’s. We also aim to continue working to strengthen the individual meetup communities across the Front Range. Other projects may take a few more months of execution before we know their ultimate status, but we are optimistic that with a refined sense of how to work (with project leaders and better delineated ownership) and a renewed vigor for our mission, we can make Startup Colorado’s second year even more impactful than the first.