An Unlikely Startup Hub
If you read about Colorado in the media last week, sadly, it was probably due to the massive floods tearing up the state, but while most of the nation’s attention was rightly focused on the high waters and humanitarian cost, happier news from the state may have slipped under your radar.
Last week was also Denver Startup Week.
Wait, what, Denver? If you did a double take that may be because Denver, while known as a hub for outdoorsy knowledge workers and home to plenty of vibrant businesses, isn’t as well known as a home for startups as its state-mate Boulder. Thanks to the blogging of resident VC Brad Feld, TechStars (as well as the city’s other high watt startup personages) and the success of Boulder startups like FullContact and SendGrid, Boulder tends to get more press than the state capital to the west.
But the Denver startup scene is on the upswing, according to Feld himself, and a large part of that is due to healthy cross pollination between various Colorado hubs. Denver and Boulder are separate but linked, he told The Denver post, explaining that “in the last couple of years people like [CEO Colorado Technology Association and organizer of Denver Startup Week] Erik Mitisek have come to Boulder, spent time engaging with the Boulder startup community, understanding what we did. And the Boulder startup community was open about all of these things, very inclusive. And many of these ideas and dynamics were effectively exported to Denver and so a lot of the things that are happening are built off of things that were successful in Boulder and now vice versa.”
Another reason for the flowering of Denver as a startup hub? It’s reputation as a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts. "Denver is very attractive to the creative class, being the number one millennial migration city in the United States. Talent wants to work here," Mitisek himself told Inc.com in an email.
That outdoorsy flavor makes the city a particularly attractive home for travel startups such as Portico, Auckland Outdoors and TravelShark, he also feels. "The fusion of access to hospitality and the tourism/travel industry, near a top technology hub - is creating the perfect environment to build travel startups. The entrepreneurial energy in Denver is growing, and with a history of startup companies in the travel industry like Exclusive Resorts - celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year - where experience meets technology, companies like Portico Club, are being born," he explains.
Of course, nowhere is perfect and Mitisek concedes that Denver does lack big tech companies to anchor the scene there. “Denver needs a Facebook, Google or Amazon like company to ground the technology community. If a destination has a company like this, people leave and start companies in that region, investors are more apt to invest in communities with known investors, and companies like these buy other local companies. The Denver startup community is working hard to help the startup companies get to that level of scale, so they can lift up the entire startup community in Denver,” he says.
Is Colorado big enough for two thriving startup hubs?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.