Silicon Valley has sat confidently on the throne of the entrepreneurial kingdom for a long time now. We all know the reasons this region has thrived: large numbers of smart people with entrepreneurial spirit, an excellent university (Stanford) consistently producing more of them, and a great environment where these people want to stay and live.
Today, Silicon Valley continues to lead the start-up community in numbers and successes, but as in any kingdom, there are others chomping at the bit. The pool of potentials is overcrowded and extreme competition has taken its toll on its famous entrepreneurial spirit. “There is a feeling in Silicon Valley that if you win, someone else loses,” said Kimbal Musk, Co-Founder of The Kitchen Community in Boulder. “It has driven success, but it has also driven people to leave.” (New York Times)
So where do you go if you want a better place to start your business? There are many locations vying for attention. Some of the top contenders, as ranked by National Venture Capital Association, include Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. These cities not only have the money to spend, but they have brainy populations with established industries in need of new businesses’ services and skills as well. But hold your horses, don’t forget that most entrepreneurs can’t afford to set up shop and live in such expensive places. The high cost of existing in these cities has caused many start-ups to look elsewhere.
Smaller runner-ups for entrepreneurial hotspots are places like Portland, Oregon, Austin, Texas, Salt Lake City, Utah, and our own backyard. The Denver-Boulder area has made it’s own mark among the challengers. In fact, many believe Colorado is poised to become the next Silicon Valley. You might ask why our state would be better than others considering that most of these locations have some of the same benefits as Silicon Valley too (remember the smart people numbers, smart people factory, and great environment?). Well, Colorado is succeeding for these reasons, but it has emerged as an excellent combatant against the reason people are leaving Silicon Valley – it is fostering a supportive community where entrepreneurs learn, work, and thrive together, not in isolation. Sure, there’s competition, but it’s less of a winner-loser situation with more support systems in place to boost the entire entrepreneurial community.
Colorado supports its start-up community with many educational opportunities designed to help entrepreneurs learn the process of starting, funding, and running a business well. Universities in the state continue to augment their business programs and focus on community support. Many degree and non-degree opportunities exist for entrepreneurs to pursue. The focus of these programs even extends to women specifically as an entrepreneur target group. University of Colorado at Boulder’s Deming Center houses the Women’s Council is an example of forward-thinking environment the state offers. This group aims to provide role models, leadership lessons, mentoring, and coaching for female business leaders specifically, but it also involves the entire community.
Besides institutional education, many organizations continue to arise in Colorado and provide essential preparation for start-ups as well. There are organizations like Rockies Venture Club (RVC) based in Denver and serving the whole state. Besides providing a well-rounded support system for entrepreneurs and investors alike, RVC recently created a series of courses in which thought leaders provide specific expertise and foster discussion and collaboration. A Good Investment Deal, Marketing and Branding, and Due Diligence are among the offerings.
Now of course business education isn’t the only factor in Colorado’s run for entrepreneurial leadership. Many cities have the same benefits, but not all of them have the same community gatherings arranged for business success. Boulder Denver New Tech and Boulder and Denver Open Coffee Clubs are examples of regular gatherings of Coloradoans where anyone can appear to discuss tech and business. Besides helping to establish relationships with fellow business leaders, attendees can discuss issues, share updates, and talk innovation as well.
Rockies Venture Club throws its hat into this ring of community business also. Part of its well-rounded nature is that it addresses all possible needs of investors and entrepreneurs. Beyond providing educational opportunities, RVC hosts monthly meetings in which local start-ups have the opportunity to pitch their business, mingle with other entrepreneurs and investors, and get feedback and possible funding. Pitch coaching proceeds these gatherings and investor forums follow, creating a cycle of support and leadership.
Now let’s be honest. The aforementioned reasons for Colorado popularity as a start-up destination are valid, but not totally unique. The picture would not be complete without the mountains. Nobody can deny the absolute beauty of the Rocky Mountain state. Lifestyle is a huge factor is deciding where to establish a business. If your employees can enjoy an affordable life and have the great outdoors and fantastic weather to boot, they are more likely to stay and thrive. As David Cohen, CEO of TechStars, put it, “If you visit, you might love it and decide to never leave. That’s what happened to me.” David Cohen will be a keynote speaker at the Angel Capital Summit on March 19th.
And of course, Colorado rise to the top of contenders for the tech hub title is not without it’s issues. Nobody can deny that Silicon Valley remains the center of the tech universe and money flows there more than anywhere else. Incumbent tech companies dominate there also, and they still lure tech brainiacs away from small and/or new start-ups elsewhere. Furthermore, Doug Dwyre, the CEO of Mocapay, a mobile payments company, thinks while being in Colorado has its pluses, “it’s harder being a start-up here,” he says. “You have to prove your business model 10 times over. Your ZIP code makes a difference for a start-up.”
However, start-ups are called that for a reason. You have to start somewhere. If you can’t afford Silicon Valley or other big cities, what do you do? Herein lies the potential for Colorado’s rise to the top. If you’re a tech brainiac who wants to pave your own path, you are likely to want to do it where you have affordable opportunity, a strong and supportive community, and an excellent lifestyle. Colorado offers the entrepreneur this environment, one where she can learn, grow, and thrive. It is the shining star on the horizon, one that promises to take its place among the leaders, if not overthrow the king of tech industry. Now of course there is the Animal Farm effect. To misquote George Orwell, All towns are created equal, but some are more equal than others.
Stacy Gregg is an educator, runner, reader, and mom to two energetic pre-schoolers. She joined the Rockies Venture Club at the end of 2012 to support the communications side of the organization.