Denver Startup Week was a wakeup call for Denver’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.
In 2012, the inaugural Denver Startup Week launched with tremendous support from a community eager to celebrate the people, accomplishments and startups that are putting Denver on the map for entrepreneurship. In year two, engagement in Denver Startup Week doubled.
That’s when the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) got serious about creating a public arena to harness the energy of Startup Week year-round.
In 2015, a public-private partnership led by DDP opened the doors of The Commons on Champa to the public. Established as a hub for the city’s diverse community of entrepreneurs, it’s now a nationally recognized economic development initiative where startup and innovation activity can happen every day of the year.
With all the success of the Startup Week and Commons initiatives, leadership quickly discovered that resources for entrepreneurs were abundant in Denver, but siloed. Entrepreneurship for the most part relied on accidental collisions or the quality of an individual’s network.
And so the Commons set out to be the go-to connector that would make entrepreneurship easier.
“We recognized that all the activity around entrepreneurship and startups was overwhelming for some and still wasn’t reaching others. The lack of an organized structure made resources difficult to access and community development more segmented,” says Jacqui Dietrich, the programs manager for the Commons on Champa. The Commons on Champa focused on uniting Denver’s ecosystem to make entrepreneurial resources more visible and accessible to those in the community who want to start and grow a business.
From collisions to connections to entrepreneurial continuum
“The Commons is a friendly, approachable starting point for innovators and entrepreneurs looking to take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey,” Dietrich says, “We wanted to eliminate all the barriers to entrepreneurship by surrounding them with the appropriate kinds of resources and support while also creating connections to community members that could help guide the way.”
Their first step: bring the resources together and make them visible.
The Commons on Champa decided to invest in a resource network for entrepreneurs, a network that could provide a continuum of services to help entrepreneurs meet goals and challenges well beyond any single startup event. By making the resources visible in an organized network, the Commons could begin to efficiently connect entrepreneurs to the right resources at the right time. Working with SourceLink, they started by identifying and mapping all the entrepreneurial resources in Denver and feeding them into the smart database The Resource Navigator®.
“With nearly 100 providers, the Denver Resource Navigator provides a central hub for entrepreneurs and small business owners,” adds Jacqui.
But databases, even smart ones, are just the first step.
Uniting through resource partner meetings
To strengthen the entrepreneurial resource network, Jacqui activated the resource partners themselves. She invited key Denver Navigators, the leads of those organizations listed on their Resource Navigator, to meet and share their services and help raise the visibility of the network in the community.
Hosting Denver Navigator meetings is helping to unlock Denver’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, allowing resource partners to connect face-to-face to learn about other resources and how to collaborate and make better referrals that support the startup community.
The kickoff meeting hosted 60 partners. Strategic facilitators Elevate Momentum and Arlosoul lead the agenda and maximized engagement.
For that first meeting, Denver Navigators focused on what resources are available to area businesses, what organizations do when they’re at their best and the strengths and gaps in the Denver ecosystem.
Credit to Elevate Momentum and Arlosoul for the above image.
From that meeting emerged a cohesive network that is committed to finding more Denver Navigators to add to the Resource Navigator, creating better visual branding to highlight resources in the community, coordinating events among organizations and building long-lasting relationships between the network partners, entrepreneurs and the community.
The Commons on Champa encourages the Denver Navigators to amplify the services they provide to the community and reduces friction between providers to better collaborate on how to best serve, connect and support entrepreneurs. They are all committed to making entrepreneurship easier.
Jacqui says that having their facilitation team asking resource partners to define what their organizations do and who do they serve best, along with giving resource providers a central platform to be found by entrepreneurs, gave the Commons the momentum to get conversations started and open the door for continued development of a more cohesive Denver entrepreneurship ecosystem.
The network’s commitment, collaboration and cohesion was put to the test with this year’s Denver Startup Week hitting a record breaking attendance of 18,900 registered attendees. That’s a 42 percent increase from the previous year.
”The growth of participation in and support for Denver Startup Week elevates the importance of the Denver Navigators initiative,”manager Rye Finegan said in an interview. "The Resource Navigator provides a more straightforward pathway for the entrepreneur looking to get started. Denver Startup Week reflects the tremendous backing entrepreneurs can find in Denver.”
By building an underlying infrastructure for entrepreneurs, the Commons can support building that continuum of connections to help entrepreneurs move from momentum to milestones, from collisions to true connections.