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The Denver + Boulder Startup Scene: A Guide to the Front Range’s #GiveFirst Tech Culture

Posted June 21, 2018

Matt Hunckler

CEO, Powderkeg

There’s something special happening in the Front Range of the Rockies.

Just ask Sameer Dholakia, who led SendGrid’s recent IPO after spending a decade growing tech companies in the Bay Area.

For years, people have been calling the Denver + Boulder tech scene the next Silicon Valley,” Dholakia says. “But Colorado has developed its own distinct culture and personality to become a competitive market for innovation [by] putting relationships, mentorship, and education first.”

Indeed, Dholakia feels nothing but excitement for what’s happening on the Front Range. “Being a Bay Area guy, I can tell you that Colorado’s tech culture is something special.”

 

An Explosion of Growth Outside Silicon Valley

For tech hubs between the coasts, it’s not about becoming the next Silicon Valley. It’s about cultivating a tech ecosystem that fosters growth and innovation.

Earlier this month, the Powderkeg team traveled to the Front Range to introduce the Denver Boulder Tech Census. We brought along a camera crew, took a tour of the mountains, and met with leaders throughout the startup scene to find out what makes the tech communities in Denver and Boulder unique.

Here’s what we learned about the local tech scene through speaking with the experienced and rising leaders who are defining the community’s culture.

 

 

Colorado’s startup scene ranks in the top 5 ecosystems in the country

 

As a whole, Colorado’s tech ecosystem consistently ranks as one of the strongest between the coasts. Here’s a quick rundown of the stats:

  • The most recent Kauffman Institute rankings place Colorado eighth for growth entrepreneurship and fifth for startup activity. This means Colorado has a dense population of startups that have a comparatively high growth rate within five years.
  • Tech companies in Colorado raised $780 million in funding in 2016, a year that also saw $35 billion in exits, according to BuiltInColorado.
  • According to CompTIA, tech employees make up 9.7% of the workforce in Colorado, one of the highest concentrations of tech employment in the country. The tech sector contributed $43.4 billion to Colorado’s economy in 2017, representing a 14% share in the state’s total economic landscape.

Here are a few things we learned about Colorado’s startup ecosystem from local tech entrepreneurs, talent, and investors.

 

>> There is a thriving network of Colorado accelerators, incubators, and venture funds.

“There are great super connectors here like Techstars, Foundry Group, Access Ventures, Boulder Ventures, and others. Much of the capital that comes here is coastal, but without these sorts of key funds and strong angels, that capital likely wouldn’t flow here.”

David Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Techstars

 

>> Local funds tend to support early-stage companies, creating a gap for scale-up funding.

“While there is some investment money available locally, many entrepreneurs still need to seek funding from outside of Colorado. More capital could certainly infuse existing companies on their growth trajectory, and more availability of tech talent.”

Annette Quintana, CEO of Istonish

 

>> Cities in the Front Range offer more than just startups and mountains.

“Denver’s awesome … I mean, look out the window. It’s a great food city. One of the cool things about our business model is we’re not tied to any specific food, so you’ll see a menu that’s very different in Denver than what you might see in Cleveland. Denver’s a great foodie city, and I love it.”

Chris Baggott, CEO and co-founder of ClusterTruck

 

Get to know some of Denver + Boulder’s top funding groups, incubators, and accelerators:

 

Funding

Stout Street Capital

Foundry Group

Access Ventures

Rockies Venture Club

Boulder Ventures

P2B Investors

SpringTime Ventures

Growth Sherpas

 

Accelerators and Incubators

Techstars

Boomtown

MergeLane

The Founder Institute

Innosphere

Catalyst HTI

UpRamp

 

Co-working Spaces

Galvanize

Thrive Workplace 

Industrious

Women in Kind

INDUSTRY

Enterprise Coworking

 

The Denver + Boulder startup scene’s #GiveFirst culture encourages collaboration

 

The mantra of #GiveFirst lays the cultural foundation for the Denver + Boulder startup community.  

Perhaps the best way to define #GiveFirst comes from David Cohen, founder and co-CEO of Techstars. “Just be helpful to each other, with no specific expectation of return, in a non-transactional way.”

The collaboration, openness, and willingness to give without expecting anything in return is a special part of the Colorado tech community. Hear how local tech leaders describe the culture and #GiveFirst mentality in their own words:

 

>> People within the tech community are motivated to help each other.

“When you get really smart people that are actually motivated to help each other rather than compete with each other, or play some crazy status game, magic happens. You can see the truth of ‘a rising tide raises all ships.’ You can see that in effect here in Boulder. That’s what’s made this ecosystem really strong and really successful since it’s started.”

Nicole Glaros, Partner at Techstars

 

>> There’s a bright future for women in tech.

“Maybe it’s the cowgirl mentality, or the fact that the state of Colorado had the first U.S.  senators who were women, but there’s something about this state and this frontierism that feels really promising for women.”

Dr. Virginia Santy, founder and CEO of Executive Suite Communication

 

>> Culture and lifestyle draw people from around the country to the Rockies.

“I picked Colorado for the mix of quality of life and the culture. It’s a place you can have those positives while working with really talented, really passionate people on interesting problems with meaningful results. That mix of quality of life but you can still get shit done is somewhat unique, and that’s what I like about this place.”  

John Ramey, serial entrepreneur and investor

 

Get connected with these Denver and Boulder tech communities:

Denver UX

Denver Devs

Women Who Startup

Boulder Startup Week / Denver Startup Week

Denver Founders

Girl Develop It

Boulder Denver New Tech

10.10.10

Colorado Technology Association

Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network

House of Genius

 

Is it the Boulder startup scene, the Denver startup scene, or the Denver + Boulder startup scene?

 

When we arrived in Colorado, we sought to find the difference between the tech community in Boulder and the tech community in Denver. The surprising answer we kept hearing? They’re pretty much the same.

Each city has different tech companies and a different history. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Denver to Boulder, and it’s easy to get around. The collaborative nature of the Colorado tech scene means that many people participate in both communities.

Here’s what you can expect, whether you call Boulder or Denver home.

 

>> If a startup relocates away from Boulder to scale, they used to move to the coasts. Now they’re more likely to move to Denver.  

“About five years ago in Boulder, once startups hit a certain scale, they’d split for the coasts because they were chasing talent, money, and venture capital. Now, when those companies reach scale in Boulder and split, they split for Denver nine times out of ten. We have seen a dramatic change over the last decade.”

Emilie Kintner, general manager of Galvanize

 

>> The tech communities in Boulder and Denver merged together over time.

“Boulder is a huge part of the community and has been organized for longer, and Denver has really matured in the last 10 years as a great startup community as well. Now it’s really merged into one great thing. Colorado is a wonderful place to live and work. It’s simply a place people want to be. Talent is ample, life is good.”

David Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Techstars

 

>> There is a collaborative “support Colorado” mindset in Boulder and Denver.

“They are very similar and there are many events to connect both communities. We haven’t seen a big disparity in the quality and the attitudes of companies or entrepreneurs coming out of either area. All entrepreneurs and investors have the ‘support Colorado’ mentality to help grow this community.”

Clay Gordon, managing partner of Stout Street Capital

 

Here are a few of the tech companies in Denver + Boulder:

Jobber Group

Ibotta

ClusterTruck

SendGrid

Havenly

Zayo Group

Gusto

Digital Globe

Simple Startup

Convercent

Photobucket

Parkifi

MapQuest

eBags

Dish Network

Blinker

303 Software

 

 

Startup jobs in Boulder and Denver are rapidly growing

 

With tech growth in Colorado accelerating, there are more jobs to fill. Data from the Computing Technology Industry Association shows that Colorado added 5,100 tech jobs in 2017—the tenth most tech jobs of any major metro area in the country.  

Many of the leaders we spoke with expressed a desire to find talent locally, focusing on rural areas, minority demographics, and those looking for a career change. But there’s also a new campaign to poach talent from the coasts.

Here’s what we heard about tech talent in the Front Range.

 

>> Colorado’s unemployment rate is low, which creates talent needs.

“Colorado specifically has one of the lowest unemployment rates in 40 years. It’s great for our economy, but that means that there are talent needs. One of the things that Galvanize is trying to do specifically is fill that talent gap: finding individuals who are either under-employed or looking for that next step in their career, and giving them an opportunity to access the digital economy.”

Emilie Kintner, general manager of Galvanize

 

>> The Denver + Boulder startup scene has a history of attracting top talent.

“Startups, technology, and creative companies have been migrating to Colorado for many years now, attracted to the area’s cachet, work-life balance, proximity to the outdoors and, most importantly, top technology talent.”

Sameer Dholakia, CEO of SendGrid

 

>> Even though the Front Range is attracting talent, more resources are needed to meet demand.  

“Our demand for talent still exceeds the availability of resources, so more needs to be done to bridge the talent gap. I believe this means that the tech industry needs to do more to cultivate talent from demographic groups that have not traditionally participated in tech. This includes (but is not limited to) engaging more women and minorities and doing more to engage people that are living in rural areas of our state.”

Annette Quintana, CEO of Istonish

 

If you’re looking to start-up or level-up your tech career, here’s where to start:

Galvanize

General Assembly

Turing School

DaVinci Coders

 

Is there something we missed? Share your perspective on the tech scene in Denver and Boulder in the National Tech Census

 

The Denver + Boulder Tech Census is part of a national research initiative to measure data around the vibrancy of tech communities outside Silicon Valley. Data from the tech census will shed new insight on the strengths, weaknesses, and impact of tech hubs outside the Valley.

All members of the Denver + Boulder tech communities are invited to participate, and the survey takes about five minutes to complete. Click here to take the Denver + Boulder Tech Census >>

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Matt Hunckler

CEO, Powderkeg

Matt is the founder and CEO of Powderkeg, a network of local communities with global reach for tech entrepreneurs, investors, and top talent. Powderkeg entrepreneurs have collectively raised more than $1 Billion in capital and are disrupting industries, creating wealth, and changing the world from areas beyond Silicon Valley. Hunckler has led successful teams with his own ventures, as well as Inc. 500 companies and venture-funded tech startups. He's been named an Under 30 CEO Entrepreneur to Watch and an IBJ Forty Under 40 Honoree for his entrepreneurial endeavors. @hunckler