House of Genius, 1 Million Cups Claim First Grants from Startup Fund

Two grassroots organizations dedicated to building better entrepreneurs won the initial grants from the Startup Colorado Community Fund this morning.

House of Genius, which was founded in Boulder and has expanded worldwide, and the Denver branch of the Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups program each will receive grants of $6,000, which should be enough to fund about a year’s worth of activity.

Startup Colorado is an entrepreneur-led organization that wants to connect entrepreneurs throughout Colorado, with a focus on Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs. It created the $200,000 fund this summer to support grassroots organizations throughout the state and to create a single place they could turn for funding requests, co-chair and Colorado Technology Association CEO Erik Mitisek said.

The vision of the two recipients align with Startup Colorado.

House of Genius puts together monthly “genius sessions” where three businesses present their businesses and talk about a challenge they’re facing to a select group of 20 or so entrepreneurs and businesspeople. Each member of the group gives the presenter insights and suggestions over the course of about 45 minutes.

“The specific purpose is to help three entrepreneurs move forward on what they’re working on in some fashion. Those entrepreneurs might be working on a startup, a nonprofit, a traditional business,” said Bing Chou, who organizes House of Genius in Boulder.

“The feedback can come in the form of tough love and an awful lot of critical thinking, which I think a lot of folks can really use. It also comes in the form of encouragement and offers to make introductions to other people in their networks,” Chou said.

Since being launched in Boulder in 2010, the organization has grown to 17 cities, including Amsterdam and Singapore. It meets in Boulder the second Wednesday of every month. The Denver group meets the final Thursday of every month.

The House of Genius doesn’t expect to stop there.

“We’re going to continue to expand the networks and tighten up the relationships between the existing cities, entrepreneurs, and their partners,” Chou said. “The money’s going to go a long way, not just with month-to-month operations, but also to put Boulder in a position where other House of Geniuses can model themselves after.”

1 Million Cups Denver has a shorter history in Colorado. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation launched the 1 Million Cups program in Kansas City in April 2012. It provides the chance for two startups to engage with local entrepreneurs each week over coffee. The startups have to be less than three years old and generating revenue.

The Denver version started a few months ago and already has outgrown its space at the Galvanize co-working space, said Gary Gaessler, who manages it in Denver. 1 Million Cups plans on moving to a larger space at the Convercent headquarters soon.

The Kauffman Foundation’s vision for entrepreneurs goes far beyond tech companies, and accordingly 1 Million Cups is looking for other startups to make their pitch, Gaessler said.

“We need companies to pitch. We’re pretty connected in the tech scene, we can get a lot of companies to pitch, but we need a lot of non-tech companies,” Gaessler said.

1 Million Cups is deciding how it will use the grant.

“What we’re going to do with the funds, we’re still trying to figure it out, but we’ll buy lots of coffee,” Gaessler said. Possible uses include expanding its Web and social media presence and posting videos of presentations online.

The grants were announced in front of a packed house at the office of the Polsinelli law firm in Denver. The event is part of Denver Startup Week.

The fund was Mitisek’s brainchild, according to Foundry Group managing director Brad Feld, who is a Startup Colorado board member. Mitisek’s pitch was pretty simple, Feld said. As more organizations and events get started in Colorado, more people are asking for sponsorships. The fund creates a centralized way to distribute money to a wide range of groups able to operate on small budgets.

“We have all these groups and events scrambling around trying to find $5,000 or $10,000 or $15,000 sponsorships for space, for pizza, for beer, for whatever, and they keep going to the same people over and over again,” Feld said. “These events are not expensive, they’re entrepreneur driven, so literally pizza and beer is all they need, and a place to hang out.”

Mitisek said future grants will be distributed every quarter. Applications are available online.

“This is not going away,” he said.

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