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Four cities will participate in the inaugural Innovation Swap in late September and early October. Fort Collins is teaming up with Charleston, S.C., while Denver is working with Nashville, Tenn.
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One startup entrepreneur from each city will spend three days in the other making connections and meeting with larger established companies in their industry as well as other entrepreneurs. Local sponsors in each city will pay for the visiting entrepreneur’s travel and accommodations.
For the entrepreneurs, it’s a chance to introduce their products to a new market and get a sense for another city’s take on nurturing innovative new businesses. For the cities, it’s a chance to show off their own entrepreneurial scenes and connect with startups in other parts of the country.
“It’s really about creating strategic partnerships with similar-size cities that have similar strengths with entrepreneurial spirit and tech startups,´ said Sam Houghteling, industry cluster coordinator for the city of Fort Collins. “Those relationships, while they might not come to anything in a few months, years down the road might be really beneficial.”
Houghteling began spearheading Innovation Swap after visiting Charleston last month for Dig South, an interactive festival billed as the Southeast’s version of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
Innovation Swap is piggybacking on BandSwap, in which bands from Fort Collins and Denver travel to seven other participating cities, playing shows with popular local bands in each. BandSwap culminates with a five-day homecoming event in Denver and Fort Collins in which the bands from the other cities come to Colorado to play and promote their own music scenes.
Dani Grant, founder and president of SpokesBuzz and owner of Mishawaka Amphitheatre, said vibrant startup and music scenes go hand in hand, with creatives and entrepreneurs naturally drawn to cities with rich cultural opportunities.
“Innovation is something that’s really important to all of these cities, and kind of organically became something we wanted to highlight,” Grant said.
Grant said she’s hoping the other BandSwap cities – Chico, Calif.; Lafayette, La.; Portland, Ore.; Athens, Ga.; and Madison, Wis. – will be able to participate in Innovation Swap next year.
For this year, leaders from the city of Fort Collins and the Rocky Mountain Innosphere will nominate and rank a group of 12 local startups for consideration by Charleston. From there, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and local entrepreneurs there will pick a winner to visit the city that they believe can benefit from the industries specific to Charleston. A similar process will happen on the other end in selecting the visiting entrepreneur for Fort Collins.
A city of about 125,000, Charleston has strengths in manufacturing, medical services, military, hospitality and tourism, and technology, said Megan Reilly, manager of innovation and entrepreneurship for the Charleston Metro Chamber.
The winning entrepreneur from Charleston, meanwhile, could benefit from Fort Collins’ strengths in clean tech, bioscience and mobile technology, as well as craft breweries and bicycle design.
“I think we have similar scenes and similar energy when it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation,” Reilly said.
Houghteling said the agendas for visiting entrepreneurs will be set once the winners are selected so that the visits can be tailored to best benefit the entrepreneurs.
The Fort Collins and Denver entrepreneurs will visit Charleston and Nashville, respectively, at BandSwap events in late September. The Charleston and Nashville entrepreneurs will come to Colorado in early October for their visits and to participate in events surrounding the BandSwap homecoming festivities.
All four entrepreneurs will get the chance to pitch their businesses to numerous local stakeholders at events at Galvanize in Denver as well as at Colorado State University’s Powerhouse Energy lab in Fort Collins.
Houghteling said that, for this year at least, Fort Collins’ 12 finalists for consideration are the local companies that were named finalists for the Blue Ocean Enterprises business challenge. Ten CSU-related startups were finalists in the college category, while two Fort Collins companies are finalists in the enterprise division. Houghteling said he’s hoping the winning entrepreneurs for Innovation Swap for all four cities will be chosen in time to announce them at the Blue Ocean enterprise division finals later this month.
The 12 companies Fort Collins has nominated for Innovation Swap are Hinde-Ramey Precision Agronomics LLC, DeYrd LLC, Beyon Modern LLC, Turf Toes Sandal Co., BAUS Tech LLC, Fargreen LLC, Living Ink Co. LLC, CDP Innovations LLC, Convenient Nutrition Solutions LLC, Crimson Oak Clothing, E-Flux LLC, Community Funded Enterprises Inc.