Fort Collins Entrepreneurs Planning for City’s First Startup Week

Entrepreneurs in Fort Collins, CO, are going to be busy this spring—not just with running startups, but also with community building.

The city of nearly 150,000 in northern Colorado will host its first startup week this May. The event will run from May 20 to 25.

Fort Collins Startup Week is modeled on similar multi-day events in Boulder and Denver, said Chris Snook, an organizing chair and founder of the Launch Haus, a Fort Collins-based company that provides services to startups. [Disclosure: Snook once was a consultant for Xconomy.]

Even though it might not get the attention from outsiders that Boulder and Denver receive, Fort Collins is a city with an active entrepreneurial community. The area’s strengths include cleantech and energy, and many startups are spun out of Colorado State University, which is located in the city.

And it’s not just insiders who are high on Fort Collins—last summer, the Kauffman Foundation lauded Fort Collins for the major role startups played in the city’s workforce.

So a gathering and maybe a little celebrating are in order, Snook said, especially if it helps lay the groundwork for new things.

“Fort Collins is about to come into its own,” he said. “It’s right on the cusp of exploding.”

Although the schedule is still being established, the week will be filled with networking parties, meetups, and informational panels. Futurist and author Gerd Leonhard will kick off the week May 20 with a keynote speech titled “The Future of Business/Capitalism.”

On May 21, the attention will shift to topics like capital access in Colorado, federal policy issues, and encouraging women entrepreneurs.

The next day, May 22, will be a bit more social, with a startup crawl sponsored by Built in Colorado that will visit the offices of companies throughout Fort Collins. The hosts typically offer beer, snacks, and the chance to network with employees. The day will include a stop at the Rocky Mountain Innosphere, a startup incubator.

The Fort Collins Startup Week website promises to bring up a bus of entrepreneurs and investors from Boulder and Denver to Fort Collins. That’s furthering another goal organizers share, Snook said—building bridges with other cities in Colorado.

Snook believes outsiders know cool things are going on in Fort Collins, but now should see it first hand.

“I think Fort Collins has been on everyone’s radar, they’ve just yet to come up here to experience it. This is about giving them a reason to come up and see what it’s like instead of just reading about it,” he said.

The week is receiving support from outside Fort Collins. Brad Feld, managing director of the Boulder-based Foundry Group venture capital firm, is supporting the event with a $10,000 matching grant from his family’s foundation.

Feld has written extensively about startup ecosystems, and his titles include the book Startup Communities, which looks at how entrepreneurial clusters form and flourish. Community building events are part of that.

“The biggest impact of startup week on any city is getting all the various people involved in startups to engage with each other across a wide variety of activities in a short period of time. This can dramatically amplify startup activity and connective tissue within the startup community, as we’ve seen in Boulder and Denver,” Feld said in an e-mail.

Fort Collins Startup Week culminates with the Colorado State University Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge, a business plan competition with a $250,000 grand prize for the winner. The event will draw 16 companies to Fort Collins to compete, and a winner will be selected Saturday, May 24.

The contest is sponsored by Blue Ocean Enterprises, the holding company of OtterBox founder, chairman, and owner Curt Richardson.


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