When I travel outside the Mile High City, I’m often asked what makes Denver so attractive for startups. While our tech community and the companies it’s home to are gaining traction by the month, the benefits of launching a startup in Denver aren’t necessarily as obvious as those associated with major tech destinations like the Valley and, more recently, New York.
But when we were preparing to launch Convercent into the governance, risk, and compliance market, there was never any doubt where we should set up shop. In fact, I recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal about some of the key reasons why Denver-Boulder is in an exciting time for tech acceleration (and our mayor did, too). Indeed, the tech hub here is actually piping with opportunity — it’s by no coincidence that $280M in funding came through the city alone last year. The perks you’d find in the Valley like daily farm-to-table meals and ping-pong tournaments aren’t the standard, but there are other important and significant advantages to cultivating a tech company here, all unique to our own local culture.
But just like most relatively new, fast-growing developments in the tech sector, we still need to iron out some kinks and improve upon certain areas before Denver truly recognizes its full potential. There are distinct areas where Denver’s tech innovation excels, but also places where we still need to grow to take our own tech scene to the next level.
What we do best
Denver has an ideal work-life balance. The city isn’t just home to slew of high-growth tech startups, it’s also home to very successful awesome food start ups as well as some of the best breweries in the US. The Rocky Mountains are in our backyard for people who love their skis and snowboards in the winter and mountain bikes and hiking boots the rest of the year. In fact, it’s this balance that often attracts top talent from New York and the Valley to Denver — people get burned out and are drawn to Denver’s high quality-of-life. The outdoors are a key part of Denver’s overall culture and everyone makes a point to take pride in these defining factors and enjoy what our city has to offer.
Within our working world, the quality of life is arguably just as high. The tech community in Denver works to foster a cohesive, supportive environment where people have unique access to the resources they need to scale: The Mayor, Erik Mitisek’s band of superstars at the Colorado Technology Association and local incubators like Galvanize all actively find ways to help startups excel and forge a close-knit network. In fact, the city of Denver and Mayor Michael B. Hancock recently helped Convercent open the doors to its new office in Denver’s Golden Triangle district, a vibrant, up and coming neighborhood where it seems a new startup sets up just about every other week.
Even the tech companies themselves work to support each other’s growth, which is a dramatic contrast to the competition you find in other tech hubs where everyone’s concerned about who’s launching what first. Our office is also a communal, shared space for local artists, entrepreneurs, and other startups to come use at no cost, as well as a venue for local networking and tech events. Even as Denver’s tech hub becomes more dense, this supportive nature hasn’t wavered. In fact, the recent and steady successes of the Denver/Boulder region’s companies seem to have only fueled our drive to help each other excel.
This close-knit community also helps give way to focused, thriving corporate cultures. In Silicon Valley, founders and CEOs are constantly concerned with other companies poaching their employees. Being outside of this noisy ecosystem, Denver is less susceptible to this company-hopping routine and, as result, employees are overall more invested in their work, driving greater company morale and productivity. Companies are able to stay focused on their visions and goals without the distractions of passing tech trends and launches.
Where There’s Room to Grow
I’d like to see Denver creating a few juggernauts on the level of Salesforce or Google. We need a few of these behemoth tech companies to help anchor Denver as major hub for technology, and help bring in the top talent and resources needed to propel the smaller surrounding companies forward.
The success of TeleTech, an innovator of customer-experience technolog; Ping Identity’s recent $44 million round; and Rally Software’s recent initial public offering (now up 100 percent) are all steps in the right direction. But we need more.
We need Sympoz, Datalogix, Sendgrid, Newsgator, Full Contact, and Convercent to continue along the path they’re on until they become nationally-recognized businesses that are leading their respective markets. Lastly, we need Governor Hickenlooper and Tom Clark, the CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, to continue their great work bringing companies like Arrow Electronics to Colorado and land a few other giant, anchor companies for Denver’s tech community to reach new levels of success.
Another development that would help significantly grow our local entrepreneurial community is a bigger market for angel capital. The issue isn’t that money for seed startups is hard to come by — there’s plenty of money if the opportunity is right. The issue is that investors only want to bet on proven technology executives with ample experience in successfully scaling companies.
These “fundable” teams aren’t as prevalent in a newly developed tech scene, and while our early stage companies are often piping with new and innovative ideas, a certain track record is required to attract capital. Incubators like TechStars are helping to usher in more qualified seed startups, but what will really move the needle is recruiting respected founders into Colorado, inspiring our own executives to start their own businesses, and encouraging Denver’s proven entrepreneurs to continue launching new companies rather than simply enjoying Colorado after some initial success.
Lastly, part of what’s hurts Denver’s tech community most is its own reputation. The Rocky Mountain West is known for skiing, hiking, turning Rocky Mountain spring water into Coors beer, and creating the cable industry. Outside Colorado, there’s an underlying sense that a technology company springing out of this unassuming area can’t possibly be ahead of the curve. A shift in this kind of thinking should come organically as Denver’s tech market continues to gain traction, but until it gains more national recognition, some extra effort goes into proving that your company has what it takes.
Despite a few areas to improve upon, I wouldn’t trade Denver’s high quality of the life, supportive tech network and strong company cultures for the advantages that come along with real estate in one of the coastal the tech hubs. With Colorado now claiming four of the top ten most popular cities for startups, I have ambitious hopes and dreams for how the region’s tech community will continue to take shape.
Patrick Quinlan is the chief executive of Denver-based Convercent, an enterprise cloud software company that raised a $10.2M series A in January (check out VentureBeat’s profile of its dynamic office space). He’s been leading Denver tech companies for decades.