Denver: A City of Collaboration over Competition
In the span of one week, my opinion of Denver transitioned from:
“Denver? Sure, I’ve heard it’s a great second site for tech companies.”
“Denver? You should strongly consider starting a company there, especially if you don’t want to be in the San Francisco Bay Area. You will be hard-pressed to find a more collaborative and welcoming environment.”
When I first heard about the Denver Startup Week and its Ambassador Program, I thought it would be a fun and useful experience, but I never imagined that I would walk away with a completely different conception of how collaborative and inviting an entire city could be. I’ve lived in San Francisco for six years at this point, and there are numerous aspects of the Denver community that I wish I could port over.
Although DSW officially started on a Monday, my cofounder Nimit and I decided to land in Denver the previous Saturday (thank you, Southwest Airlines for the free flights!) to take advantage of the nearby nature and explore Estes Park, a beautiful town that’s the base camp for Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as the college town of Boulder. Rocky Mountain National Park is a short drive from the city, so it’s a fun weekend trip or even a day trip.
Denver Startup Week
Former Denver Bronco Ryan Harris emceed the Denver Startup Week kickoff event, and current Mayor Michael Hancock gave a welcome speech. I was particularly impressed that DSW provided American Sign Language interpreters for this event. I’ve attended many conferences, and this is the first one I’ve seen with ASL interpreters.
For the next three days, we were shuttled around to various startups in Denver. Catalyst HTI in the River North District (RiNo) was our first stop, and to call it just an incubator would be drastically understating its mission. I was shocked by the integration of existing industry players, small startups, and government agencies. Catalyst HTI is a confluence of all the important healthcare industry players, and I had never heard of anything like this attempted before. If I were in the healthcare industry, I would be working out of Catalyst, hands down.
Other company tours included Pie Insurance (a startup rethinking workers’ compensation insurance that’s experiencing an incredible growth rate), Evolve Vacation Rental, Guild Education, and Ibotta. A special thank you to Polsinelli for hosting a rooftop dinner with breathtaking views.
Other Aspects of the Denver Community
The Ambassador Program officially ended on Wednesday, but my cofounder Nimit and I stayed for an extra two days to engage with the non-profit and community development ecosystem in Denver. Two instances that highlight the unparalleled amount of partnerships in Denver stick out in my mind:
- The Denver branch of the American Red Cross hosts in its building many minority Chambers of Commerce, including the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce, Asian Chamber of Commerce, Colorado LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, and soon the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In many other cities, these organizations act fairly independently, but in Denver, they seek to partner together and physically work in an environment that facilitates in-person communication.
- The Commons on Champa is a free(!) public coworking space, and various government agencies have a presence there to help entrepreneurs get their companies off the ground. I simply cannot imagine a similar environment in San Francisco. If a free workspace did exist in another city, it would likely be 1. not open to the public, 2. not have local government partnerships/support, 3. be sponsored by a VC fund with heavy strings attached. In contrast, Denver implemented the ideal version!
I’ve highlighted several examples of community and collaboration that we found in Denver to an extent not present or even conceivable in a hyper-competitive environment like Silicon Valley. I was honestly sad to fly out of Denver.
Thank you to Conor, Lacey, Emily, Cory, and all of the other Ambassador Program volunteers and sponsors for making this eye-opening experience possible!