Scaling the Peak: Denver Out to Follow Boulder’s Entrepreneurial Ascent

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No matter who supports it, though, nothing draws that many people together unless people are ready for it.

Entrepreneurs and companies in Denver were ready.

That’s because Denver has long had great entrepreneurs and great companies, according to Erik Mitisek, one of the organizers of Denver Startup Week. They just hadn’t found their voice or each other.

Mitisek is a serial entrepreneur based in Denver since 1999 who has played a role in seven startups. His most recent company is Next Great Place, a three-year-old startup with 12 employees, eight of whom work out of its headquarters along the South Platte River, just north of downtown Denver. Next Great Place creates an online community of travelers with access to travel experts and low rates for trips to destination locations. It has raised $3.25 million from VCs.

Along with Next Great Place co-founder and president Tom Filippini, Mitisek helped build Denver-based Exclusive Resorts, a luxury travel club. Former America Online chief executive Steve Case bought a majority of the company in 2004, and it remains downtown.

Over the past decade or so, Denver-based startups like NewsGator, Ping Identity, and ReadyTalk have grown from startups to successful companies with hundreds of employees, but they haven’t received the attention similarly sized Boulder companies seem to get, Mitisek said.

“There’s been a lot of great companies here for a while, but I don’t think their stories have been told,” Mitisek said. “The tech economy and the digital economy in Denver are really starting to stand on their own two feet.”

Getting together and developing a sense of community is a good first step.

One of the lessons the leaders of Boulder’s startup scene try to teach is the need for a “give before you get” attitude, according to Robert Reich, a Boulder-based serial entrepreneur. He is the founder of New Tech Colorado, a self-described “community of over 9,000 geeks who live and work in Colorado.”

The group hosts monthly meetings in Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins, where companies can pitch their ideas to an audience of hundreds and get honest feedback. Leaders of local companies regularly visit to find employees.

Michael Sitarzewski is working to create that on a smaller level. Sitarzewski is co-founder and CEO of Epic Playground, a small startup formed in Boulder that is building audience engagement and analysis tools for online media. Epic Playground graduated from the TechStars Cloud program in San Antonio, Texas. The company’s product, MediaGauge, has been built, and now Sitarzewski is courting online publishers.

Since 2010, Sitarzewski has helped run the Denver Open Coffee Club, an informal gathering of technophiles that meets every other Tuesday. The club started after Sitarzewski realized how many regulars traveled to the Boulder Open Coffee Club from Denver, he said. He wanted to build a bridge between the cities and a place where people in Denver could connect, and launching a Denver club seemed like a good idea.

“It was about trying to bring some ‘Boulder ideas’ to Denver and the startup scene there,” Sitarzewski said.

About 40 people typically attend the meetings, which have shown some results beyond relationship building. “People have been hired, jobs have been secured, and deals have been done because of DOCC,” Sitarzewski said.

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