The "Three C's" That Make Denver a Successful Startup City
My Fall 2019 travel schedule is a little insane - I'm writing this from Lithuania, next week I'm in Dublin and Minsk, and I'll take at least 15 more flights before this year is over. However - in amongst all this travel, I had the opportunity to spend three days in Denver as an Ambassador for Denver Startup Week (DSW). I wanted to share some of my takeaways with you.
I happened upon the opportunity to be a DSW Ambassador on accident, but it ended up being one of the best experiences I've had this year! DSW is a celebration of everything entrepreneurial in Denver as the largest free event of its kind in the world built by the community, for the community. In 2019, the eighth annual event brought more than 20,000 people together to celebrate Denver’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and showcase and build the city’s culture of innovation. The Ambassador program is meant to bring non-Denver folks into the city to get involved and understand exactly why the city is so magical (and then of course to evangelize their findings to others!).
All this to say - DSW taught me a lot and most importantly reminded me why having community, conversation, and collaboration as some of your career core values (whew, alliteration!) is a pretty dang good idea.
Not only was I attending DSW events while in Denver, but courtesy of some host companies (Ibotta, Pie Insurance, Evolve Vacation Rental Network, Catalyst HTI, and Guild Education), I was able to get a feel for what life is like inside of a startup in Denver. In fact - two of the companies (Pie Insurance and Evolve Vacation Rental) invited us to dig deep into what was going in their businesses. We were able to choose a question that interested us and come up with creative solutions that might help them grow or solve a business challenge. Getting to see how other companies tackled challenges they were facing not only gave me insight into how Denver thought about business, but also gave me some ideas for tweaking the way that companies I'm involved with do the same.
I'm the most introverted person ever when I travel (and frankly even sometimes at home). I enjoy quietly observing my surroundings and engaging only when I feel as though I have something meaningful to contribute. DSW flips this model on its head due to the sheer curiosity of the folks in attendance! Conversation is encouraged and dialogue is not siloed by status, your # of rounds of funding, your title, or anything else. It was fascinating to be in a space where approaching executives was encouraged and thoughtful questions were demanded. This was never more evident to me than while at the dinner we had on our final night - the ambassadors and others sitting at my table had a really strong conversation about diversity, inclusion, and what it means to be a true champion of both. Nobody's perspective was devalued and each person walked away with something new to think about. Imagine what we could achieve if every conversation in a business setting was framed with the same sort of rules and respect.
The thing that stood out most to me was the sense of community I found in Denver. I'm not in a position to move, nor do I want to leave Chicago, but I felt a sort of magnetic pull to Denver after understanding how folks thought about community there. On the panel at Guild Education featuring folks who had recently moved to Denver, something that really struck me was this notion of "work-life integration" instead of "work-life balance". I strongly believe that many of my friends and I already practice work-life integration (encouraging the two to flow seamlessly together rather than designating blocks of time to accomplish each) but I didn't have a word for it before. Mind you, this is not a "new thing" - Forbes wrote about it back in 2016. But Denver as an entire city practices this so fully that to not operate this way was to stand out like a sore thumb. Many times we can tout something as an excellent new practice, but without majority adoption it will fade after awhile. Work-life integration isn't fading anytime soon in Denver and I want more of it in my life.
All in all I had an incredible time in Denver and I'm beyond grateful to the DSW team (Conor Swanson, Lacey Hyde, and all the other volunteers), the Sponsor companies (Southwest Airlines and Polsinelli Law Firm), the Host companies (mentioned above), and everyone else who played a role in making the 2019 DSW Ambassador Program a massive success! I'll definitely be back to Denver - if you'd be interested in being a 2020 Ambassador, follow along here or shoot me a message and I'll connect you to the team!