Denver has long been the playground of craft brewers and the outdoorsy types, but thanks to a booming economy, growing metro area, and intelligent workforce, it’s now also a technology hotspot. Yet unlike Silicon Valley with its cut-throat reputation, Denver is a *different* kind of tech town: one that’s as supportive as it is smart, an idea as refreshing as the Rocky Mountain air.
It’s no secret that Denver’s a peak business destination. U.S. News and World Report named it a top place to live in 2018 based on a healthy job market, cost of living, and perception as a desirable place to live, and Forbes includes Denver among the nation’s best cities for business and careers. What’s new is the influx of tech over the past decade in the form of startups, incubators, and innovative companies — and the welcoming community that greets them. “Anyone’s welcome here, as long as they remember to be kind, give back, and respect our nature,” says Lizelle van Vuuren, founder of celebrated learning platform Women Who Startup.
Like other technology hotspots, Metro Denver has become a connected sprawl, drawing in places like Boulder, Centennial, and Louisville. And the area is booming; according to the Denver Chamber of Commerce, the region added about 39,000 jobs in 2017 and employment growth was 1.2 percentage points higher than the national average.
The City of Startups
Many of those jobs have been created by startups. The Denver Business Journal reports ventured capitalists invested a record $1.1 billion in Colorado startups in 2017. But the VCs have had plenty to choose from over the years; the original Startup Week took place in Boulder in 2007. (It was so successful that the founding company, Boulder’s Techstars, is now running Startup Weeks globally.) What makes the area so great for startups? “Greater Denver has everything an entrepreneur might need, most importantly population density and free thinkers,” says Brad Feld, Co-Founder of Techstars and Managing Director at Foundry Group. “You’ve got all of the resources here, but none of the ego.”
And then there’s the “other” startup week — Denver Startup Week — an unrelated conference which has become the country’s largest free entrepreneurial event; this year’s event boasts 20,000 attendees and 376 sessions (chosen from 1200 submitted). This one is unique in that the entire thing is run by a community of passionate volunteers who manage the agenda, content, and more. Founders Ben Deda and Erik Mitisek — both University of Denver alums — drew on the area’s supportive nature in creating the event: “Whether you’re talking sports, business, skiing, or technology, Denver is such a supportive place. I’ve always been taken by the idea of collective community leadership, and this is a perfect example of what can happen when a community collaborates to support all walks of entrepreneurs,” says Mitisek.
Leading the Internet of Things
Thanks to a great deal of those successful startups, Denver is now a recognized leader in the internet of things (IoT), or the industry building devices enabled with electronics, software, and connectivity. Denver is home to Rachio, which added the internet to sprinkler systems, and Remote Lock, which added the internet to door locks. Then there’s Boulder’s Chui, which created the smart doorbell, and Wuf, which makes smart dog collars, along with many more.
Combining Denver’s love of the outdoors with its penchant for IoT is Louisville-based Clean Energy Collective (CEC), which is pioneering environmental IoT via intelligent software and community-shared clean energy facilities. “Living in such a beautiful area, you can’t help but care about the environment and how to preserve it. It’s in our DNA,” says Paul Spencer, Founder and CEO of CEC. “That’s why we’re taking solar energy mainstream.”
Who’s helping all these companies get started? For many of them it’s Boomtown Accelerator, which created the area’s first IoT lab, complete with design and software work stations and equipment like 3D printers and scanners, plus a library of every available IoT device — tablets, smart thermostats, lightbulb, and appliances — so developers can test their devices with existing IoT objects.
If You Build It, They Will Come
In addition to IoT, Denver is now home to a number of other subsets — like secondary tech offices and tech transplants — all seeking to bask in the all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality. Most notably there’s tech giant Salesforce, which has an office in Louisville. “We love the opportunities the Denver area affords,” says Salesforce SVP Marie Rosecrans. “Louisville is a great place to be thanks to reasonable real estate costs and high quality of life, but really the whole area jives with our company and values.”
And then there’s transplant Guild Education, which helps large employers offer college education benefits and tuition reimbursement as an employee work perk. The female-founded company began in San Francisco, but migrated to Denver thanks to a lower cost of living and a supportive community. “Denver fits our model, our mission, and our people,” says Guild CEO and Co-Founder Rachel Carlson. “We believe it’s the best place to build a mission-driven, high growth company, both because of the amazing people who live here and the city itself.”
Collaboration Is Contagious
The collaborative nature of the city is inspiring. Take a group of entrepreneurs and add a little kumbaya, and you get the Downtown Denver Partnership, a collaborative city-building organization that ensures all of Downtown Denver’s stakeholders — businesses, employees, residents, and visitors — are connected. Their vision of togetherness projects Denver as one of the most economically powerful center cities in the country, and by all accounts, they’re making it happen.
And then there’s Galvanize, a Denver-based tech education business that combines classroom space with co-working areas and community-building events for startups. Galvanize has 8 offices nationwide, but keeps Denver as it’s flagship area thanks to the cohesive community. Case in point: This month Galvanize is teaming up with Salesforce to host a Business Growth conference in Denver on June 14; anyone curious about using technology to connect systems and serve customers can attend for free.
Wondering where AI fits into all this helpfulness? Here’s a company that combines both: Iterate.ai is a platform that connects executives with entrepreneurs through an AI-based search engine matching enterprise challenges with startup success stories. “Our team is based both the Silicon Valley and Denver. We were drawn to Denver thanks to its easy-going lifestyle yet thriving business community, particularly when it comes to IoT,” said Iterate Studio Co-founder and Chief Digital Officer Brian Sathianathan.
A New Kind of Tech Town
Maybe it’s the entrepreneurial spirit or maybe it’s that Rocky Mountain air, but great things are happening in Denver. It’s positively a new kind of tech town — one that’s collaborative, friendly, and booming with innovation.