Denver Startup Week: How to Make 2014 Better

Fund your brains out, really! Check out P2B Investor.
Fund your brains out, really! Check out P2B Investor.

It’s Denver Startup Week (DSW) here in town. So far, I have attended the kick-off luncheon w/Seth Godin, Tech Cocktail, the Leadership Panel at Basecamp, and Ignite Denver 15. Of course, being the #HashtagHustler, I have also been following the Twitter feed to see what kind of conversations will pop up on the hashtag.

While I am happy to see that this year’s event is bigger with more tracks (Business, Design, Manufacturing, Tech, and then some ), Basecamp (WONDERFUL pop-up coworking/mingling lounge on 16th Street Mall), and a streamlined events calendar/agenda, there is still room for improvement for the next year (and beyond).

My mind came to these thoughts mainly from Andy Vuong’s article, “Could Denver Startup Week eventually rival SXSWi festival?” Sure, Seth Godin gave us some blessings about how DSW is the largest free event of its kind in the world; we have that going for us as compared to SXSWi. However, the quality of DSW sessions are not at the same caliber as SXSWi sessions; we may boast 125 free sessions this year, but how many of them are worth attending? There’s a reason why people pay good money to attend SXSWi. If we want to be competitive with SXSWi, we need to do the following:

  1. If we’re going to have the tagline “Celebrating Everything Entrepreneurial in Denver”, we will have to move past the tech scene. Despite what many attendees may think, the events are not as diverse as they can be: tech is laced in with design & business, oftentimes being the focal point of those sessions. In fact, the most-tweeted/publicized events so far seem to be highlighting only Tech-related events. Unique offerings this year do include a manufacturing track and more food-related sessions (also some spirits-tasting). If we are going to celebrate EVERYTHING entrepreneurial in Denver, it is time for us to also think of the small business community here. Let’s bring in some cafe/coffee shop crawls and sessions on how to start your own local thriving restaurant, bakery, etc. We may have ‘separate’ food events/festivals happening throughout the year in town, but many of our favorite neighborhood eats are also entrepreneurial. Just because their focus is not on tech does not negate them as being entrepreneurial.
  2. Work with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Mile High Business Alliance, and other organizations in town. This point goes along with above: the problem we have in Denver is that we are all stuck in our silos, our comfort zones. This year, Downtown Denver Partnership, Colorado Technology Association, and Chase are the top sponsors of Startup Week. What about asking the Denver Metro Chamber to sponsor as well? The Mile High Business Alliance? Perhaps these other organizations can provide more resources/sessions for years to come. Also, wouldn’t it be nice to expand our events past downtown and showcase other great neighborhoods for our out-of-town guests to Startup Week? This could encourage them to consider moving to our beautiful city.
  3. Use the #DENStartupWeek hashtag for more conversations and meetups.  This may just be a general problem in Denver and not just DSW. I have attended several conferences this year (Launch festival, Inc. Leadership, SXSW V2V) and there I noticed attendees utilized the hashtags to connect in-person, create pop-up parties, etc. Not only that, people were using the hashtag for plain ol’ conversation on Twitter regarding the events. So far, I have seen a lot of retweeting the same tweets and not much conversation going on with the #DENStartupWeek tag. If we’re trying to rival SXSWi and other conferences/events, we should be using our hashtag more effectively.
  4. Where’s the New Tech? Where are the true innovations? We hopeful attendees got to select the proposals for DSW a month ago; not sure if the organizing committee had some input on the final decisions or not. When the final schedule was released, I jumped onto the calendar to see which sessions I could attend. What I saw on the schedule were many hackneyed topics: funding options; how to deal with failure; programming; and the same monthly events that Denver always holds (Denver Founders Network, New Tech, etc.). The monthly events are fine, but the sessions? Most of the lessons from these sessions can be found online through an article, blog post, TED Talk, etc. I had a friend tell me, “It’s much different to hear the advice in-person than via video,” and I do agree with him on that. However, instead of having these tried-and-true sessions, why don’t we mix things up? What about having someone present a new concept in solar technology that can then be made into the next great startup? What about new restaurant concepts? New design thinking, mapping, etc.? Let’s be innovative and have sessions that are quirky, unique to Denver and Colorado. Let’s make DSW worth the time for out-of-towners visiting us.
  5. What about all the other great entrepreneurs/founders out there? Let’s move past the local stars, i.e., Jim Deters, Bart Lorang, and Brad Feld, and get other founders up on stage/leading sessions for inspiration; let lesser-known (yet successful!) entrepreneurs have the spotlight for once. Don’t get me wrong: I admire and respect the aforementioned people. However, if we continue to focus on only these major players, how can we innovate? Also, would be nice to see more female entrepreneurs on the main stage/bigger sessions instead of silo-ed off to a one-night session.

What do you think could be improved upon for next year’s DSW? Do you agree or disagree? Would love to hear your insight.

#Launch2013 – Thoughts Post-Festival

Mustache pic with Liz H. at the Try it Local booth.
Mustache pic with Liz H. at the Try it Local booth.

Whew. It’s already a week after the Launch Festival in San Francisco. I’m sitting here, sipping on green juice and wondering how the week just flew by. When I first decided to go to Launch, my intent was to go spread the word about TAOpivot to others in the Bay Area; you know, do some networking like I usually do.

What I didn’t expect was for the conference to be MORE than just that! I was so excited to go to Launch that I started following the #Launch2013 topic and pinging people to see if we could meet up. Once I got to the event, I was doing part live-tweeting of main stage sessions and also continuing to message other attendees to try to meet up.

Yup, I out-tweeted the @Launch account.
Yup, I out-tweeted the @Launch account. Stats from Epilogger.

So, after the first day, I unintentionally out-tweeted the official @Launch account. I was stunned and … well, didn’t expect for so much to happen out of that.

Oh, the horror!
Oh, the horror!

Days 2 and 3 consisted of me maxing out my tweet limit (I was locked out of Twitter for an hour…oh the pain!), lots of requests to meet up from other attendees and Demo Pit startups, and … just AMAZING connections. By the end of Day 3, I felt like I had a whole new family to go home to. It was sad to see the Concourse getting cleaned up…I felt lost afterwards. *cue the violin*

Got recognized at The Creamery! New friends Crystal & Terri & me
Got recognized at The Creamery! New friends Crystal & Terri & me

Ok, the actual Launch festival: Jason really hit it out of the ballpark. Fireside Chat with Chamath was so awesome (and so many quotable things….”Jason is a fungus”). Inspiring Accelerator and Angel Investor panels. Fun demos from companies launching at the festival! There were plenty of startups to visit in the Demo Pit that I couldn’t hit up all the booths. I felt the buzz of hope, change, life! in the air. It was nice to meet other likeminded people and chat about our similar yet different struggles in our startup lives.

My badge
My badge

And: the Digital Detox booth. Oh my gracious. This was probably the most brilliant booth there was: leave your mobile devices/laptops/etc. at the entrance and go inside to be blissfully unaware of the buzz around you. I loved trying the different tea and getting into lively discussions with other attendees without having anyone pull out their phone. There was also massage in the back area: complete with didgeridoo sound healing from my new friend, Brandon Waloff. (See Vine vid here:IMG_7330)'s mission is so unique: helping divided communities come together!’s mission is so unique: helping divided communities come together!

What could have been improved? The timing. Every day we started later than expected; I missed a lot of the Skills Stage and Office Hours sessions because the Main Stage ran behind. Poo. The Diversity in Tech panel could have been more than just a whine-fest–it only touched the service of the topic. I know many other female founders felt that there could have been more female representation via launch demos, panels, and judges. I’d like to see a bit of balance there, too.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself at Launch. I loved meeting people from all over the world and just .. knowing we’re all in this together. Three days is all it takes to make some lasting, meaningful connections. Three days can change your life, as it did for me!

9 Lessons Learned So Far at #Launch2013

Vivek Wadwha with the Diversity in Tech Panel at Launch 2013.
Vivek Wadwha with the Diversity in Tech Panel at Launch 2013.

Today is a special post from yours truly (and maybe Wednesday’s as well): this week I am in San Francisco attending the Launch Festival. So honored and grateful to be here, thanks to CoFounders Lab. Anyway, today was Day 1 and already I’ve met so many people and pitched the hell out of Denver’s startup scene. Also, I’ve learned a few important lessons, listed below:

  • Show up 10 minutes before Registration officially begins – I still had to wait in the “cold” weather, but I was able to get in to have enough time to eat some pastries, drink coffee, and chat with a few founders.
  • Do not walk up to fellow Coloradans after seeing tweet – Somebody from Fort Collins, CO was standing in line behind me and tweeted a pic of the line, essentially including my presence (my back) in the photo. I walked up to this person after I got my badge and introduced myself. Said person gave me a look for saying “I found you on Twitter.” -shakin’ my head- I didn’t reconnect with the person afterwards because he seemed uncomfortable that I was so forward with my intro.
  • Tweet a lot, get called a bot – I sent out a lot of tweets this morning/most of today with the official hashtag #Launch2013–beating out the official Launch account! During the VC Panel, I received tweets from other attendees saying I was a bot. First time for that to happen to me! I suppose I have quick thumbs … apparently the number of tweets I wrote were “humanly impossible.”
  • Wear gold-tipped shoes – Seems my description of my outfit wasn’t entirely unique except for telling others I was wearing “gold-tipped shoes”. One fellow founder jumped up and screamed “GOLD-TIPPED SHOES!” when she saw me walking by her table. Differentiating factor? 😛
  • Ethernet cords are still very useful – Many attendees were complaining about the wifi, but the Launch team prepped for the outcry with tons of ethernet cords supplied. So, if I had brought my MBP, I would have been able to be on computer, tweet, and do work.
  • Learn to navigate mazes to get food – A fellow founder and I had trouble locating the Google Entrepreneurs breakfast goodies .. we thought it was a bad joke that the only ‘breakfast’ we’d get was coffee. But then…we found the magical food section, hidden behind black curtains. After that, we became the food-direction masters, directing others towards the hidden treasure.
  • Make a tentative list of startups to visit in Demo Pit – The Demo Pit has so many companies! When I walked straight into the pit I got a huge sense of overwhelm. I should have made a list so I could hit up my favorite startups first! Well, I luckily have two more days.
  • Do not trust “booth babes” – I didn’t know what people were talking about…but now I know. There was a booth with women dressed in military fatigue, tall pumps, and provocative stockings. They looked like Barbie Dolls. And the whole booth was just offensive….anyway, @Jason got rid of the group so we won’t be seeing them tomorrow.
  • Tweet to other attendees to meet up, make awesome connections – Have already met so many people at Launch, all by reaching out via Twitter. Twitter definitely breaks the ice more easily. Then people know I’m a nice person, not weird 😛

The conference runs for the next two days, so I’m sure my Wednesday update may have more lessons (or just plain amusing moments).