Startups  May 14, 2024

Boulder Startup Week: Accelerators play leading role in vibrant ecosystem

BOULDER — For much of the past couple of decades, the Boulder area startup ecosystem — along with the Colorado scene more broadly — has had the reputation of being a scrappy upstart, punching above its weight alongside heavyweight regions such as Silicon Valley, Austin and Boston.

While the local scene has matured in recent years — with some observers claiming Boulder and Front Range have lost some of its spark — the fundamentals that made the region an innovation hotbed remain sound, players in the local startup accelerator environment said Tuesday during a panel discussion at Boulder Startup Week.

One of the drivers of continued success, panelists said, is the region’s ability to attract founders and employees who embrace cooperation rather than cutthroat competition. 

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When technology companies decide to set down roots in Colorado, “the number one reason they say is collaboration,” Denver director of innovation and entrepreneurship Michael Bevis said. “…They don’t get that in a city like New York.”

The second reason, he said, is “access to talent,” both developed locally and recruited from afar. 

“It’s a very friendly, very open, very welcoming” startup ecosystem, said Exponential Impact accelerator and Denver Angel Investors member Luz Gonzalez.

Other founders and potential investors in Colorado are always willing to say, “Yes, let’s go get a coffee,” said Adam Sanchez with the RVC HyperAccelerator and the Rockies Venture Club.

The comparatively laid-back lifestyle and better access to the outdoors continues to serve as a competitive advantage for the local startup ecosystem, panelists said. 

“We’ve found out that VC folks really like to ski,” Bevis said, resulting in a proliferation of local investment opportunities in recent years. 

“We believe that great founders are everywhere, but opportunities are not,” Techstars program manager Sasha Green said. Many accelerators have begun embracing hybrid programs that allow founders from across the country and world to participate for a couple of days or weeks in person and then online for the bulk of duration of the accelerator class. 

As the local accelerator scene has matured, it has begun to become more specialized. For example, there are now industry-specific programs such as Innosphere’s Life Sciences Incubation Program, said Kevin Noble, who leads that program for Innosphere. 

Despite the ongoing local momentum, challenges remain for the Colorado startup and accelerator community, as evidenced by Techstars’ decision this year to move its headquarters from Boulder to New York City.

The local startup ecosystem may have “lost a little bit of the wind in its sails over the past couple of years,” said Rio Hodges, director of the Antler accelerator’s Boulder program, but accelerators, founders, workers and investors are striving to recapture some of that past magic.

For much of the past couple of decades, the Boulder area startup ecosystem — along with the Colorado scene more broadly — has had the reputation of being a scrappy upstart, punching above its weight alongside heavyweight regions such as Silicon Valley, Austin and Boston.

Lucas High
A Maryland native, Lucas has worked at news agencies from Wyoming to South Carolina before putting roots down in Colorado.
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