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

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Making the next great place

Creating a critical mass of companies in a specific neighborhood in Denver remains a challenge. Boulder’s activity is concentrated in about four blocks. Denver is a sprawling city. Some are trying to overcome that.

An example is Galvanize, a 30,000-square-foot workspace that’s created room for dozens of entrepreneurs, including permanent offices that can accommodate companies with up to a dozen people.

Galvanize’s biggest local backer is Jim Deters, a serial entrepreneur who co-founded Ascendant Technology, which is based in Austin, Texas. Ascendant was doing $90 million in revenue with approximately 600 employees before Avnet acquired it in 2012.

Deters and his partners want to create density and a center to Denver’s startup scene, Galvanize managing director Tony Mugavero said. Since rushing to open in time for Denver Startup Week, it has hosted more than 70 events and has become the home of the Denver New Tech Meetup.

Galvanize also will offer companies seed capital, and it hosts classes on subjects like user interface design. Ultimately, its leadership wants to combine three Cs— community, capital, and curriculum, Mugavero said.

Galvanize’s work has been noticed by local startup scene veterans like TechStars Boulder managing director Nicole Glaros, and many Boulder entrepreneurs are Galvanize advisors.

Mobilizing veterans

According to Glaros and Robertson, getting help from experienced entrepreneurs who have led IPOs, sold a company, or gone through a long slog is essential. In Boulder, these mentors provide advice, make contacts, or become early clients.

“As an entrepreneur in Boulder, you can get a meeting with almost anybody, and there are dozens of people willing to help you. That’s the notion of giving back in action,” Glaros said.

Tom Higley is a Galvanize supporter and is giving back. He co-founded Service Metrics with Robertson and was its CEO. He then went on to found StillSecure, a network security company based in Superior, a town outside Boulder.

Higley now lives in Denver, where he has started a small startup named Vokl, which he calls a kind of “Instagram for Business.” He also is organizing a new event that will bring together 10 entrepreneurs in Denver for 10 days to build companies to address 10 significant problems that for-profit businesses could solve. They will compete for $500,000.

It’s set to take place in October.

Waiting for the breakthrough

While the story emerging in Denver is a nice one, the city’s advocates are aware that pieces are missing—especially the marquee company that has a huge exit or IPO and proves to outside investors that the area is worth taking a close look at.

“We just have to have some notable successes…that handful of breakthrough companies that define a region and a state,” Mitisek said.

It is an issue for the entire region, Higley said. He doesn’t remember much that has come along over the past decade that has had the impact of Service Metrics’ $280 million sale, especially because it was a stock deal and the shares quadrupled in value by the time they could be cashed in.

“Since then, what can you point to that would persuade outside investors they should invest in startups located here?” Higley asked.

Higley is convinced access to venture capital is part of the problem. A number of VC firms opened in Colorado during the late-1990s boom, and some had a regional focus, but many couldn’t raise multiple rounds to keep investing, he said.

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