While many believe the uptick in the Colorado economy has been exclusively due to the legalization of marijuana, entrepreneurs and startup founders in the area know that it always had the potential to make an impact. With a supportive ecosystem focused on work-life balance and promoting diversity, it's no wonder the Mile-High City is thriving.
We talked to a number of startup founders and entrepreneurs in Denver to get a better idea of what the ecosystem is up to in 2017. Take a look at what they had to say below and make sure to keep an eye on the Wall Street of the West.
Yes, work-life balance is important to tech companies around the country. However, there are few places on the planet that take this perk so seriously, as Denver provides more than enough opportunities to enjoy life outside of the office.
“The culture in the Boulder/Denver startup ecosystem features a strong work-life balance,” said Thierry Schellenbach, founder and CEO of Stream. “People work hard but also like to hit the slopes in the weekend or go for a good hike. The beautiful surrounding in Colorado probably plays a role in that.”
For Denver founders, it's about more than just getting a little time off to hit the slopes. It's about making sure their employees are happy and healthy, leading to improved productivity and a thriving ecosystem.
“Denver companies embrace work-life balance to the fullest,” said Molly Berger, head of client engagement at P2Binvestor. “We love our jobs and work hard for our companies but we still know when to shut our laptops and hit the mountains for a hike. Colorado companies understand the ROI on happy, healthy employees.”
Snowy and Supportive
With all that cold weather, it's hard not to be supportive of other entrepreneurs trying to make it big. Denver exemplifies this supportive environment, showcasing startups and networking their butts off in an effort to put this mountain town in the tech hub discussion.
“The Denver startup environment is incredibly supportive – every executive and investor, former or current has never refused an ‘ask' or been unwilling to share their experiences,” said Steven Grandchamp, CEO of Drud. “I believe that as Colorado’s startup community continues to grow, there is a fierce pride in showing that this location can compete with Silicon Valley in terms of starting, growing and exiting successful business. That camaraderie is a binding element of our ecosystem.”
As far as business resources are concerned, Denver is a hotbed of supportive events and people, making it easy to be a startup. After all, if you don't have the infrastructure to built an ecosystem, you're going to have trouble succeeding.
“The relationship with the community is mutually beneficial,” said Andrew Fischer, CEO of Choozle. “Through participation in organizations and communities like Denver Startup Week, TechStars, Galvanize, and BuiltIn, Choozle has gained a ton of knowledge and resources. And as we have scaled we have been active supporters and participants, and been able to help maintain and grow the startup infrastructure for so many other newer startups.”
Thin Air Funding
While the culture is focused on work-life balance and the community is undeniably supportive, it's important to remember that Denver is not one of the major tech hubs. This means that the funding situation is less than ideal, making for a competitive environment when it comes to locking down capital.
“It is not easy,” said Mehmet Kazgan, founder and CEO of Cliexa. “There are a lot of government and community-based grants as well as VC and angel groups, but having a lot of startups makes it competitive to get a funding. Compared to the West and East Coast, Colorado is not as big from funding amount standpoint.”
Despite the hard to find funding, the supportive attitude makes getting your foot in the door a little easier than the smaller ecosystems. And if having to work hard is a con for this ecosystem, that's fine by us.
“I've found that getting warm introductions and striking up conversations is more accessible in Denver compared to New York,” said Christina Bellman, founder of LEVO. “After an introduction, it's on you to unearth any potential opportunities! In general, Denver‘s culture works in favor of startup founders when it comes to making connections needed to start a business.”
A thriving ecosystem is about more than business capital and startup exits. It's about inclusivity and diversity. After all, if you can't give everyone a chance to have a seat at the table, you're part of the problem.
“Denver is doing a better job of being more inclusive of diverse entrepreneurs,” said Molly Berger, head of client engagement at P2Binvestor. “We still have a long way to go but strides are being made by everyone from major tech companies, to support organizations and the city and state governments as well.”
Read more about the Denver startup ecosystem on TechCo