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A First-Timer in Denver - from a Denver Startup Week Ambassador

I am a San Francisco-based disability advocate and social entrepreneur. Having grown up in the DC area and living in New York City before making my way to the West Coast, I know there is still a lot more of this country to explore. I heard about the Denver Startup Week Ambassador Program through a member of Dreamers // Doers who had attended last year. Dreamers // Doers is a membership community for trailblazing women.

I saw this as an opportunity to visit Denver for the first time, learn more about the startup ecosystem there, and explore where access and disability fit into the conversation.

The Denver Startup Week Ambassador Program was hosted during Denver Startup Week, which was founded in 2012 to celebrate all things entrepreneurial in Denver. Bonus points for being FREE (with no plans to change that in the future thanks to sponsors).

This was a trip of firsts for me. Not only was it the first time in the state of Colorado, but also my first time flying Southwest (thanks Southwest!). A few chuckled when they heard that I had asked the flight attendant how seat assignments work (for those who don't know, you can sit anywhere).

I love exploring cities by getting outside and through public transit. There are two free buses that run throughout downtown Denver, making access around the area accessible to all. I was even able to take public transit to spend a day in Boulder after the Ambassador Program, hiking the Chautauqua Royal Arch trail and grabbing a drink at Avery Brewery. It is incredible to live in a place that is surrounded by mountains (that are also accessible via public transit). Easy access to nature is great for your mental health.

As a disability advocate who aims to be more intersectional in her work, I’m always curious to learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion. While it was mentioned multiple times that “[racial] diversity is an issue,” I appreciated that people were cognizant of it and willing to engage in conversation about it. I attended the Inclusive Design = Good Business session featuring Mark Balsano (VP Accessibility, Charter Communications), Matthew Gesualdi (Tact-Ed.org), and Cathy Bodine (UC Denver), who stressed the importance of listening to the end user, user testing, and tapping into the market of the more than one billion people with disabilities globally. I also enjoyed getting to connect with fellow Denver-based disability advocate Natasha Walton of the Tech Disability Project.

People here are extremely generous and proud to live in this city. A small example of that was connecting with fellow DSW attendee Matt Craine on Twitter, where he offered me an extra ticket to attend an "at capacity" talk with Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn. I even had the chance to meet her briefly and share a bit of my own personal journey from not engaging in any physical activity as a disabled kid to spending way more time going on adventures and being outside as an adult.

It was also clear how much everyone loved Denver during our company visits to Catalyst HTI, Pie Insurance, Evolve Vacation Rental Network, Guild Education, Ibotta, and Polsinelli. And thanks to my friend Margie Thirlby, who is the Executive Director of this incredible non-profit called Reading Partners, I was able to extend my trip and visit Denver Zoo after hours at a special Back to School Celebration that the organization was hosting for donors and volunteers.

Thanks to everyone who made this trip possible for me. I know it won’t be my last trip.

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