A Culture of Innovation in Technology Brewing in Colorado

Guest post from Michael Price posted from www.connectedwest.org 

Email: michaelprice@connectedwest.org or call 720-515-7581

By Michael Price, Executive Director of the Coalition for a Connected West

Something pretty special has been brewing in Colorado recently.  It’s no secret that Boulder has become the next tech diamond in the rough—landing the top spot as a hot hub for new tech startups, other tech talent and private investment.  At Coalition for a Connected West, we sense a refreshed and serious commitment by Colorado’s lawmakers to work with the Coloradans to ensure the right regulations are in place to support expanding connectivity and flourishing innovation and private investment.  That’s why we took the opportunity to bring thought leaders, techies, and lawmakers together at the state Capitol to talk about hot legislative issues and business needs to create a more business- and tech- friendly environment in Colorado.

Last week, the Coalition for a Connected West joined the Colorado Technology Association (CTA) and Built In Denver to host “A Day at the Capitol.”  It was an opportunity to celebrate Colorado’s culture of innovation and establish a direct dialogue between policymakers and the technology community.  Nearly 200 tech leaders attended the event, which included some of Colorado’s top thought leaders in technology, all dedicated to creating connected and thriving business and tech communities in the state.

 

[Watch the  YOUTUBE VIDEO of CTA Day at the Capital Event]

Erik Mitisek, the newly announced CEO of the Colorado Technology Association and member of CCW’s advisory board, set the tone:

“Technology is the center-pivot that really is going to fuel innovation, efficiency and allow our state to be competitive in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

On behalf of our partners, I moderated “Innovation and Growing Technology Companies,” a panel discussion featuring Colorado’s leading entrepreneurs and Wyoming State Senator Cale Case.  The engaging panel included Peter Hudson, CEO of iTriage; Tom Higley, CEO of Vokl; Brian Pontarelli, CEO of Inversoft; and Will McCollum, Denver General City Manager at Uber , who discussed the ingredients that lead to growth in the technology industry.

Photo credit: Inversoft
(Left to Right) Peter Hudson, CEO of iTriage; Michael Price, Executive Director of CCW; Tom Higley, CEO of Vokl; Brian Pontarelli, CEO of Inversoft; WY Sen. Cale Case; Will McCollum, Denver General City Manager at Uber.

The general consensus was that innovation needs space to thrive without burdensome regulations that could slow it down.  We also emphasized the need for Coloradans to be more involved in the policymaking process.  CCW is about generating a dialogue between the IT community and the policymakers that affect our lives and businesses.

Andrew Romanoff, former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, gave a presentation on how the legislative process works:

“I’m glad that you are taking the time to lift the lid on the Golden Dome and see what goes on underneath because I think it’s the only way, the best way to make this process as responsive and accountable and transparent as possible.”

During the event, the Colorado General Assembly was in the midst of the final days of the Legislative Session. Several important measures that would impact the technology community were being considered, including HB 13-1255.  The bill, authored by state Rep. Angela Williams, would create an environment conducive to encouraging investment in IP-based communications networks.  These next-generation networks are necessary to support the data-heavy traffic generated by devices like smartphones and tablets that have become central to our lives and our economy.  Similar legislation passed in Wyoming, which Sen. Case brought up during the panel discussion as a way that states with rural communities like Wyoming and Colorado could use to send a signal that they are open for tech business.

While the legislation passed unanimously in the State House (62-0), it is currently pending in the State Senate.  CCW and CTA are calling on Coloradans and members of the tech community to reach out to their senators and ask them to support the legislation.

Click here to take action!

CCW would like to thank CTA and Built In Denver for working with us to create a better future for Colorado and hosting a great event!

 

Erik Mitisek is new CEO of CTA

If you came to the Colorado Capital Conference last October you may have seen Governor Hickenlooper’s keynote address. Hick’s good friend Steve Foster gave the introduction. At the time, Steve Foster was the CEO of the Colorado Technology Association. Steve Foster stepped down earlier this year to take over as head of GTRI. Now, after a short executive search, Erik Mitisek has been named the new head of CTA.

Mitisek has been associated with the startup world in Colorado for a long time for such a young man. Most recently, he’s been a driving force for grass-roots operations such as Startup Colorado, Denver Startup Week, and BuiltIn Denver.

This news of Mikisek as the head of CTA should put your mind at ease for a bunch of reasons. First of all, the CTA is the largest and most influential technology association in the state. Aside from networking and business-connecting activities, CTA works to guide public policies that affect technology businesses in Colorado. Since technology moves so quickly, it’s very hard for legislators to keep up with all the new opportunities on the horizon. Laws can hold back startups and larger businesses without meaning to. CTA opens the line of communication so that our state legislature paves the way for technology instead of standing in the way.

One of the biggest issues that faces Colorado is that of attracting companies to Colorado and retaining them once they grow. CTA supports the policies and initiatives that draw national attention to our state as a place where businesses thrive. By educating home-grown STEM talent in Colorado, we foster the ecosystem of growing technology companies. CTA is also highly supportive of initiatives that improve access to capital which is something we think about all day here at Rockies Venture Club.

Mitisek is a highly capable leader who genuinely cares about businesses in Colorado. He has an impressive resume including two stints as CEO (Next Great Place, and Claremont Information Systems) and was recently named one of Colorado’s 25 Most Influential Young Professionals by ColoradoBiz Magazine. Don’t even bother being impressed yet because this is only the beginning.

On Mitisek’s watch, CTA will become fundamentally integrated into the fabric of Denver. He will do exactly what he does best–connect grass-roots everyman needs with the administrative efforts of the state government and non-government community leaders. He will help focus the funding power of local foundations who state in their missions a desire to support economic development.

Most of all, Erik Mitisek will remind us that technology is not just for the proverbial software engineer. We all carry a powerful computer in our pockets everyday. We all need to understand how technology can help our businesses market products better. We all need digital security and data storage for our personal information, photos, address book, and recipes. We are all technologists. There’s no more denying it.

Write your well-wishes to Eric Mitisek (or the tasks you want him to handle first) in the comments and I’ll pass them on to him.

More coverage here:

 

Article by Nicole Gravagna, Director of Operations for the Rockies Venture Club.

 

 

Bringing big problems to Denver

An original guest post by Jay Holman, Principal of Venture to Market

101010Denver

Update: Get information about 10.10.10 on 101010denver.com

10.10.10 will Bring Big Problems to Denver

Entrepreneurs have a unique ability to see opportunity in the problems others face, and they are irresistibly drawn in by the desire to create, and sell, solutions to those problems. This is the guiding principle behind the upcoming 10.10.10 event in Denver, which will bring 10 would-be CEO’s to town for 10 days to brainstorm solutions to 10 big problems. The goal is not just to see if participants can come up with feasible solutions to the problems, but to go beyond that by turning one or more of those solutions into successful startups led by members of the group.

The brainchild of Denver entrepreneur and Vokl founder Tom Higley, the 10.10.10 is an experiment to see whether the creative genius that leads to startup success can be reproduced in a laboratory environment. Along the way, the event will highlight the positive business climate and culture of the Denver area, which was already given a boost recently when the SBE Council named Colorado one of the 10 most entrepreneur-friendly states.

The 10.10.10 is not a business plan competition; instead, it is about collaborative business plan creation. When CEO level entrepreneurs apply to participate, they will identify a problem they’d like to discuss with the other participants. They won’t suggest a solution in their applications; those suggestions will come during of a 10-day working session in Denver during which all 10 participants work on all 10 problems. If a feasible path to a solution emerges for one or more of the problems, it will be developed into a business plan.

The focus will be on big problems, as bigger problems lead to bigger opportunities. Since a primary goal for this exercise is to start one or more profitable businesses, applicants will need to provide proof that large companies or groups of consumers are willing to pay for a solution to the problem the applicant describes. That means charity projects are out (sorry Jimmy Carter, but if all goes well the participants will be in touch after their exits).

So, will it work? Like any experiment, or any startup for that matter, 10.10.10 has its risks. 10 days is not a long time to come up with a solution to a major problem, and participants won’t have much of an opportunity to gather additional information to flush out the details of their proposed solutions. Lots of problems seem easy to solve until you look at the details; hence the ubiquitous pivot.

However, there is something to be said for taking a step back, putting your head together with a group of smart people with access to capital, and looking for good opportunities that others have missed (I refuse to use the term “low hanging fruit”). How many times have you asked yourself, “why didn’t I think of that?” after you see someone strike it rich for rebranding off-the-shelf paint as liquid paper or repurposing a small box as a humane mouse-trap? There are so many solvable problems out there that I think a group of successful entrepreneurs with resources should be embarrassed if they don’t knock a few off and make a bundle in the process. Just don’t forget Jimmy on your way home from the bank.

Jay Holman is Principal of Venture to Market LLC, a Boulder based consultancy providing go to market services for new ventures in the cleantech industry.

101010 Denver 101010Denver

 

 

 

Swift Tram Wants to Get You High

Guest Post by Jay Holman, Principal of Venture to Market LLC

Recently declared the third most investable startup at the 2013 Angel Capital Summit, Boulder based Swift Tram wants to revolutionize public transportation by taking it high above the streets. The company envisions riders zipping along in suspended coaches 20 feet off the ground, gliding unimpeded over traffic jams, accidents, and icy roads to reach their destinations quickly and predictably. And, perhaps best of all, Swift Tram expects construction of its routes to cost less and take less time than adding light rail or bus lanes to existing travel routes.

With such an attractive set of benefits, observers could be excused for wondering why no one has gone down this road before. In fact, they have: a suspended coach system (also called a suspended monorail) built in Wuppertal, Germany in 1901 is still running today. More recently, Siemens completed one in 2003, and Aerobus is supposedly building one in Weihai, China, but its current status is unclear. However, despite these examples and a number of others not listed, suspended coaches have played a very minor role in public transportation to date.

What makes Swift Tram different? According to Founder and CEO Carl Lawrence, it’s the cumulative effect of many recent technological advancements all incorporated into a new, modern design. Swift Tram has filed two provisional patents covering advancements intended to, among other things, improve the speed, efficiency and reliability of suspended coach systems while reducing operating costs. Understanding the company’s innovations first requires a general explanation of their new approach to an old method of transportation.

The Swift Tram system consists of coaches suspended beneath large tubular guideways that are supported by regularly spaced towers (see image above). Drive bogies travel through the inside of the hollow guideways and connect to the passenger carrying coaches beneath them through a channel that cuts through the bottom of the guideways (see image below). The bogies are the true heart of the system: they contain motors powered by electricity delivered through the guideways, and house the intelligence that enables the fully automated system.

The bogies will be designed to carry the coaches at average speeds of 45 to 75 mph, and will be fully automated, so no driver will be required in the coaches. The ability to operate without drivers is key to the operational efficiencies Swift Tram is counting on to make its approach economical. Not only does it allow the company to save the labor costs associated with drivers, but it significantly reduces the overhead associated with running smaller, more frequent coaches. By running coaches more frequently Swift Tram would reduce wait times for passengers, leading to happier passengers and, ideally, increased ridership.

Efficiency gains in the bogies would come from incremental improvements over historical designs, such as the use of regenerative braking and smaller, more efficient motors. At the system level, smaller motors would enable smaller bogies and smaller guideways, cutting construction and material costs. Swift Tram plans to pursue additional system level efficiencies by designing smart bogies that can coordinate their activities to minimize power draw system wide. In addition to using less electricity than traditional suspended coach drive mechanisms, they also would reduce the size of the electric grid required to support the system, again cutting construction and material costs.

By incorporating these and other design improvements drawn from recent developments in the smart grid, electric vehicle, and related industries, Swift Tram hopes to pull together a system that overcomes the challenges that have slowed widespread adoption of suspended coaches to date.

Currently, Swift Tram is focused on establishing the partnerships it will need to realize its vision. The company plans to manufacture the drive bogies, outfit the coaches, and develop the software for the control centers in-house, while manufacturing and construction of other system components will be outsourced. An in-house prototype of the bogie is under development, and Swift is raising a $1M seed round to support the engineering design of the total system. The company anticipates raising a couple of additional rounds to support prototyping, testing, and manufacturing before it sees initial revenue in 2016.

If Swift Tram is successful in helping public transportation rise above the fray, the ramifications could be significant. Metropolitan areas all over the world suffer from severe traffic congestion, and a cost effective solution that reduces travel time without adding to the ground-level footprint of transportation infrastructure has a lot of appeal. The array of approaches to suspended coaches that have come and gone without catching on provide a testament to the challenges Swift Tram faces, but if the company overcomes them it should find lots of riders who have been waiting for a better transportation option. Waiting in traffic jams, waiting for trains that aren’t scheduled to arrive for another 30 minutes, and waiting for buses that should have arrived 10 minutes ago.

Jay Holman is Principal of Venture to Market LLC, a Boulder based consultancy providing go to market services for new ventures in the cleantech industry.

 

CO? Forestry: Investing in carbon reduction and sustainable forests

Guest Post by James Lester, Managing Consultant with Cleantech Finance

When investors, policy makers, and the media discuss the best ways of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that cause climate change, most attention is paid to increasing renewable energy and reducing the usage of fossil fuels. A key driver of climate change that is often overlooked is tropical deforestation, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of global GHG emissions. These native forests act as global carbon sinks (they absorb carbon emitted by energy production), but rapid deforestation in tropical regions due to unsustainable timber harvesting, farming and livestock practices in developing countries have devastated natural forests, reducing the ability of the planet to absorb emitted GHGs.

CO? Forestry Corp, a Colorado-based developer of sustainable forestry and carbon offset projects, is addressing this critical area, a relatively low-cost target sector for emissions reduction. CO? Forestry is deploying investment capital to design, plant, and manage Brazilian eucalyptus timber assets, and develop marketable and verifiable carbon offsets for sale to strategic partners. Its founder, Reed Pritchard, has over 25 years of experience in commercial real estate and renewable energy project development. The company has purchased high quality, Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) carbon credits developed in the Peruvian Amazon and recently announced a partnership with Ride the Rockies, a hugely popular annual bike tour through the Colorado mountains. Ride the Rockies will use the carbon credits from CO? Forestry to offset its carbon footprint and highlight the tour’s sustainability efforts.

CO? Forestry is currently engaged in efforts to develop its own sustainable forestry projects that take advantage of the dramatic transformation occurring in the charcoal supply market. Approximately 55% of charcoal production in Brazil comes from logging native forests for the Brazilian steel industry with a value of over $500 million annually. Charcoal is one of the main sources of energy used in the production of pig iron for steel in Brazil. The vast majority of the current charcoal production is from unsustainable and often illegal harvest of native forests, leading to severe environmental degradation and deforestation. While there have been efforts to reduce unsustainable practices, institutional barriers have prevented wide adoption of sustainable forest plantations for charcoal. CO? Forestry’s business plan is poised to overcome these barriers.

CO? Forestry’s projects will help to replace native forest destruction with a renewable, more environmental friendly source of charcoal for iron ore reduction. In the Brazilian charcoal market, eucalyptus hardwood timber receives premium pricing and produces a better, faster, more consistent charcoal product than native forest timber and is less expensive than the alternative, imported coking coal. The company sees the additional income provided by the new area of carbon credits and carbon finance as having a significant impact on the barriers to sustainable development. CO? Forestry describes its sustainable forestry project in greater detail on its website.

CO? Forestry is proposing the development of a three-phase 24,000 acres plantation project with total development costs of approximately $45 million and 14 year project life. The company is currently seeking around $800,000 from investors to cover the upfront development costs and operating losses of the initial pilot project over the next 36 months. The income produced from the sale of both timber and carbon credits developed by CO? Forestry will create a long term, lower risk, stable investment return for CO? Forestry’s strategic partners, as well as other investors such as pension funds, college endowments and private individuals. According to Pritchard, an investment in CO? Forestry should appeal to the longer term investor looking for solid, stable, lower risk returns in the area of 20% IRR’s (unleveraged).

Brazil is one of the fastest growing markets worldwide with a rapidly expanding middle class demanding the building blocks (lumber and steel) of a developing economy.  A sustainable, local, and reliable, supply of carbon neutral charcoal provides a competitive cost advantage and hedge for the Brazilian steel industry. The resulting CO? Forestry carbon credits will be sold into the $576 million (2011) global voluntary carbon market. It should be noted that the potential growth of the market for carbon credits may soon expand as  international bodies along with the U.S. are currently discussing various policies to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (also known as REDD).

Pritchard began the company because he sees a tremendous opportunity for himself and potential investors to realize significant investment returns as well as create a profitable, positive and significant change to the current trajectory of the planet’s carbon balance. If you are interested in learning more about the potential opportunity that sustainable forestry and carbon credits can provide, please contact Pritchard at rdpritchard@co2-forestry.com.

James Lester is a Managing Consultant at Cleantech Finance, which is an analytics group that reports on the intersection of finance, cleantech, and policy. James is an experienced author and has contributed to industry journals such as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change which is now called the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

An E-Commerce Revolution with Infinite Possibilities

As a mom with little time outside of childcare, I want shopping to be as painless and efficient as possible.  I don’t dare waste time in malls.

I would like to buy a Kettler Kiddi-o Air Tire Tricycle. It is sold by a multitude of websites including eBay, Amazon, Walmart.com, and so forth. After searching two hours for the best price and comparing shipping costs and coupon codes, eBay won the sale with a price of $89.99. Now I really don’t want to spend that much, but that was the best price I could find.

Brian Grega and Anthony Sanchez, veterans of sales and marketing, are coming to my rescue. Shortly after Christmas 2011, they began to discuss how they have spent their careers figuring out buyers, trying to be better guessers of who will buy what when.

Here’s the conversation that changed everything:

Sanchez, “I wish there was a way to know when someone wants to buy something so we don’t have to spend so much time and money marketing to them.”

Grega, “Why can’t we have that?”

Within the few minutes of that interaction, these guys had started the ball rolling on what would shatter the existing models of today’s online marketplace and start an e-commerce revolution with infinite possibilities in today’s environment and technology.

What started in that brief exchange between Sanchez and Grega, quickly took form as the only C2B (consumer to business) online shopping model in e-commerce, Infinite Buyer. They created a site where the buyer arrives with a specific product in mind and makes an offer for it to registered sellers. Venders, in turn, respond with an acceptance, counter, or refusal of the customer’s price. In this simple exchange, Infinite Buyer has revolutionized the online market in a radical shift of power to the buyer.  Both the buyer and seller save time and money in an unprecedented way with this model.

Infinite Buyer entered a market saturated with successful online stores like Amazon and eBay. How it can contend with such formidable forces? It doesn’t have to. These big guys serve the general, uneducated shoppers at the wide mouth of a shopping funnel whereas Infinite Buyer captures the decided buyer at the narrow end of that same funnel.

Grega likes to say, “The little red book of selling will tell you that people do not like to be sold, but they love to buy.” This statement is the best testament for Infinite Buyer’s goal – create a place where buyers have the power to guide the market and sellers enjoy the profits without as much of the usual expense of earning them. Imagine that you wake in the morning with a purchase in mind and can simply enter the item on Infinite Buyer with an offer to sellers within your budget. Then you go about your day fulfilling other responsibilities and return later to find which sellers have accepted your price. Finally, you can complete the transaction quickly, wasting almost no time shopping.
Sanchez puts it this way, “There’s no more waiting for the right seller offer to pass in front of you, no more waiting for a summer sale. Everyday everything is on sale at the exact price you want.”

While the control currently lies mostly with Infinite Buyer’s consumers, sellers still reap many benefits. Without the expense of sales and marketing teams, they get feedback as to what buyers want and what they are willing to pay. And while the beginnings of Infinite Buyer focus on the consumer, the future holds many exciting possibilities for sellers. Grega and Sanchez envision capturing more and more of the funnel described earlier, moving up a bit, if you will. For example, the site will eventually allow sellers to post items for offer. When buyers use Infinite Buyer to pursue specific items, they can also submit an offer on other items sellers have displayed.

Grega, CEO of Infinite Buyer, spent the majority of his 30-year career at high tech Silicon Valley start-ups. He’s an expert at market development, sales operations, marketing, and industry pioneering activities. Sanchez, CMO of Infinite Buyer, is a former Fortune 500 Marketing Executive with 25 years of experience in marketing strategy, digital marketing, branding, website development, and entrepreneurial pursuits. He was one of Silicon Valley’s first web marketing professionals at Oracle. So you’ve got two of California’s Silicon Valley business gurus forging the way with an exciting new company in Colorado’s “Silicon Summit.”

Besides Grega and Sanchez, Infinite Buyer’s team includes experienced advisors on the Board of Directors and field experts on the Board of Advisors, such as Skip McGrath, eBay’s only endorsed Online Sales Coach. There are also technical experts and highly skilled architects in product development.

The niche Infinite Buyer has filled in the marketplace and its leadership combined to earn the company a finalist pitching spot in Denver’s Angel Capital Summit, hosted this week by Rockies Venture Club. Infinite Buyer will join many other Colorado start-ups in a quest for funding.

Grega and Sanchez see funding as a vehicle for supporting Infinite Buyer’s viral growth potential. Once monies are received, they will exercise their marketing expertise and put many features into place that will guarantee a rapid increase in the user community, platform development, and the creation of a mobile app. Additionally, funding will focus on creating loyal customers by utilizing data acquired through transactions for augmenting features and options. Grega and Sanchez envision tens of millions of buyers within 3-5 years and tens of thousands of sellers by then. The funding amount they seek now ($400K) is relatively low considering their playing field, but they say it is enough to carry them through the impending viral growth period that will, in turn, lead to enough revenue for independence.

As with any start-up, there are issues to address. Infinite Buyer faces an imminent viral growth period, one that will surely entail the need for a lot of customer support. Once a transaction is complete, there are shipping and handling, quality assurance, and other processes to ensure. Also, there are worries that buyers won’t be loyal if they aren’t experiencing successful transactions, and current sellers, in turn, expressed concern about buyers being bottom feeders. Sellers also want anonymity for brand quality assurance.

Grega and Sanchez, in their business wisdom, have addressed these issues up front. Part of the funding they seek will go to developing customer support needs and toward analyzing data to provide buyers with guidance for successful purchases. Furthermore, current data already shows that buyers are offering reasonable amounts consistently and sellers are satisfied with revenues from the site. Infinite Buyer also rates buyers based on offer and purchasing records, so sellers can have more confidence in transactions. Also, sellers’ names are not publicized, only buyers know the source of an item.

Because of its radical C2B nature, Infinite Buyer stands alone. There is a huge $250 billion e-commerce market in the US, projected to expand to $330 billion in the next five years, so it there is plenty of space for Infinite Buyer to fit without posing a nuisance. Besides, the big guys have no incentive to switch their successful models nor risk established relationships to compete in an untested market.

Interestingly, therein lies the true challenge to Infinite Buyer. Grega and Sanchez recognize their obligation to shareholders is to build this niche in the market so well that when Infinite Buyer becomes large enough to constitute a nuisance to the titans, it will have enough revenue and customers to be acquired rather than squashed.

Back to me. I’ve cancelled my purchase from eBay for the Kettler Kiddi-o Air Tire Tricycle. I’m going to offer $50 for it on Infinite Buyer. Then I’m going to bed because I don’t have to spend any more time on it. I’m sure a seller will be waiting for me in the morning…

 

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.

See Vokl pitch at Angel Capital Summit 2013

By Tim Harvey,  guest writer for the Rockies Venture Club

Your smartphone is as dumb as a banana when it comes to interaction with local merchants,” says Tom Higley from his co-working space in Denver, Colorado. As CEO of Vokl, he’s ready to change that.

Smartphones are more prevalent than ever, with over 1 billion users worldwide, expected to double in the next few years. Including tablets, the worldwide market for mobile purchases is around $25 billion, and eMarketer says this will jump to $87 billion by 2016. Despite this, many local merchants rely on technology as advanced as the tried-and-true sidewalk sandwich board to attract customers in the area. It’s hard to blame them – these signs are fast, cheap, get attention, and many small business owners don’t know of a better way. They often have a hard time creating professional content online, and when they aren’t able to provide value to their customers this way, they’re missing out. The incredible market opportunity presented by mobile technology poses risks as well – especially to small and medium size companies and local merchants. The businesses that are either not aware of, or not able to capitalize on these global trends are likely to be left in the dust – while the ones that see it coming and can use it to build meaningful content and connections with their customers stand to win big.

Tom Higley has a vision for how these smaller businesses can participate. As a successful serial entrepreneur and 6-year mentor for TechStars, this isn’t the first time he’s planned to change the tech landscape. Vokl is the 6th company where he’s either been a founder or CEO, and throughout his career has raised about $35 million to return over $1 billion to investors. Working closely throughout his career with entrepreneurs like Brad Feld and Raj Bhargava, he has a unique perspective on what growing businesses need and where opportunities are within the marketplace.

Tom’s answer to this problem is an easy-to-use app for businesses to create mobile content their customers appreciate. “The consumer is the center of the value-creation universe,” he says. He believes that giving local businesses the ability to produce and deliver value to their customers will drive consumer engagement, and envisions a world where both the consumer and business could expect mobile interaction with each other. Right now, neither side expects this – and that’s what Tom plans to change.

The first stage of Tom’s plan was to create the Vokl Business app, which has been available on iOS since October 2012. This allows local merchants to easily create and share content through Vokl as well as social media, similar to how Instagram works. It has pre-built templates, and also makes it easy to do things like add text to images, for a caption or a call to action. The next step is for Vokl to release the consumer version of the app, which they expect to do within the next month or so. This will drive communication beyond content creation and consumption – users will be able to see posts businesses they follow in their feed, and they can also interact with the merchant. The last and potentially most valuable phase for Vokl will be leveraging location based content. Geo-tag technology will continue to grow, and although companies like Foursquare have been popular, they really aren’t really geared toward merchants, especially in the minds of users. It’s especially hard for businesses to create content or direct who gets it. “Eventually every place will tell a story, and what is important to me may be different than what is important to you,” Tom says. That’s why it’s so important for a business to be able to tailor their messages quickly and easily. Although the location based technology will be the most challenging piece to develop, he has experience in this area from serving as CEO of Denver-based Local Matters.

Vokl plans to fill a niche in the market that they don’t see anyone else providing. Many business owners haven’t seen much value from directory services, even when they are online. Most small businesses are on Facebook, but they are becoming increasingly annoyed with it. Often, they created a page because it was free and relatively easy to get ‘likes’, but with the implementation of EdgeRank they aren’t able to reach all of their user base they build organically without paying for sponsored posts. Whether or not they see this as a bait & switch from Facebook, many find it frustrating and hard to control.

While Tom was obviously excited about developing the technology, he also has great respect for the rest of his team. He is known for for spotting talent – he hired Niel Robertson (Founder/CEO of Trada) in his early 20‘s at Service Metrics, and they went on to sell the company to Exodus Communications for $280 million in 1999. For Vokl, Tom brought on software and engineering wiz Vasily Vasinov as CTO, after finding him at the top of the CU-Boulder computer science program. Tom also had good things to say about the rest of his team – another developer and what he calls “the best UI designers in Colorado.” He talks of how his team’s experience complements each other, similar to how Steve Jobs likened his recruiting model to what made The Beatles great.

Tom is pitching at the Rockies Venture Club Rockies Venture Club Angel Capital Summit, March 19-20, 2013. The two-day conference is Colorado’s largest angel capital event, and begins with a live interview with TechStars founder David Cohen. In addition to other startup pitches, RVC will feature seminars from local experts, and a keynote speech from Jon Nordmark, co-founder/former CEO of eBags and current CEO of usingmiles.com. After last year’s Angel Capital Summit, RVC investors led $15 million of investment in 24 companies that pitched throughout the year, so this year is sure to have a positive effect on the Colorado entrepreneurial community. The event will be held at DU’s Sturm Hall and more information can be found here.

Tim Harvey is a guest writer for the Rockies Venture Club. His mixed experience with Finance and Neuroscience allows him to fit right in. If you run into him, ask him about his ‘Semester at sea’.

 

The Next Silicon Valley

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.

 

Art and culture at Thrive LoDo

Guest post by Griffin Ignelzi, Thrive LoDo

Art in a Thriving Business

Art: Local Denver artist, Moses “Sonny” Valdez established his artistic roots over the course of 20 years working as a custom automotive painter. During his time as a renowned custom painter he has had more than ten cars featured in high profile national automotive magazines, most notably in Low Rider magazine, where he was honored with the cover and featured centerfold. His experience as an auto painter inspired the, “Contemporary Abstract Art,” he creates today. His work can appropriately be described as the fusion of sleek ‘industrial’ design that encompasses the flare and visual vibrancy seen inside elite showrooms on the custom body work of high-end vehicles. Using sheet metal as his canvas, Sonny creates unique and reflective modern artwork. The surface of each piece is uniquely etched with various grinding patterns that is then accented and finished with the experienced personal touch and masterful usage of a variety of vibrant, “candy coated” paint colors. The aptly named, “iCandy” artwork is currently on display at THRIVE.

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Venue: Rising local business, THRIVE– a premier LoDo Denver Co-working office space, has taken its appreciation for the arts and incorporated it within the daily business culture of its progressive workspace. THRIVE’s goal is to provide a creative and innovative environment that enhances membership and stimulates business growth by showcasing the inspirational works of local artists inside its walls. Thrive is currently displaying the vibrant, “iCandy” wall art by Sonny Valdez- the first of many local talents to be displayed within their within its energetic and rapidly evolving modern workspace.

In addition to enhancing the everyday experience for members and visitors with lively artwork, THRIVE stretches its daily operations past the monotony of the traditional workplace by regularly hosting after hour meet-ups, networking and social events designed to bring people from the professional community together in an appropriate setting to market, pitch, educate and expand their businesses.

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Event: Friday, February 22nd at 7:00pm- THRIVE will be hosting an Open House to promote local arts and bring together local business professionals, community and Denver nightlife. “iCandy” art will be on display, accompanied by a silent auction, music, food and beverages. [THRIVE at LoDo- 1830 Blake St. Denver, CO. 80202)]

Griffin Ignelzi is the Office Manager at THRIVE Workplace Solutions, when he isn’t writing blog posts for Rockies Venture Club, he just stares at the mesmerizing art on the walls. 

Reach more Colorado customers

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Reach more Colorado customers by sponsoring the Rockies Venture Club in 2013.