#GEWPolicy Spotlight: How Denver Built a Supportive Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
Denver, Colorado
Michael Bevis, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the City and County of Denver, shares five key insights into how the city has built a healthy entrepreneurship ecosystem and culture.
MICHAEL
BEVIS
9 Nov 2021

This article is part of a Global Entrepreneurship Week (#GEW2021) series putting a spotlight on policies designed to help entrepreneurs start and scale, and the crucial role policy makers play in building a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem.

For many years now, entrepreneurship has been a hot topic. Many cities are gravitating towards it because entrepreneurship creates thriving and sustainable economies. Denver is one city that has gained considerable recognition for supporting entrepreneurs over the years. Nestled at the base of the foothills leading into the Rocky Mountain range, Denver boasts a myriad of activities and adult playgrounds for any outdoor enthusiast, offering an attractive work-life balance for budding and seasoned entrepreneurs alike. But more importantly than the lifestyle balance, Denver has strategically positioned itself to succeed by supporting entrepreneurs and fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation. The following outlines some observations during my time working to ensure a healthy ecosystem that allows entrepreneurs to thrive in Denver.

It starts at the top:

For organizations that wish to implement change, there must be complete buy-in and support from top levels of leadership within the firm. State and local governments are no different in this regard. Colorado and Denver have experienced forward-thinking leadership for quite some time. The former and current governors (John Hickenlooper and Jared Polis), both successful entrepreneurs before embarking into politics, along with Denver’s current mayor (Michael Hancock) have embraced and supported a diverse economy rooted in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Be the best supporting actor:

Government entities often feel it is their duty to lead the charge and implement strategies they believe will help accomplish the task at hand. But nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to building healthy entrepreneurship ecosystems. Entrepreneurs must build the ecosystem based on their needs and synergies. Brad Feld, a highly respected and successful entrepreneur who calls Colorado home much of the year, speaks about this quite candidly in his two books: Start Up Communities and The Start Up Community Way. I appreciate his frankness and mindset around the government’s role in ecosystem building. To that end, governments should operate as a perfect partner would in a personal relationship. Be a good listener, offer support when asked, and let the entrepreneurs shine in their starring role as problem solvers and doers. Denver has done well to make starting and operating a new business simple administratively while offering targeted support through public-private partnerships.

Know your strengths:

In my role, and prior roles I have held, I have had the benefit of exploring many different innovation ecosystems around the country and the globe. If there is one thing I have learned to avoid, it is to stop trying to be all things to all people. Don’t try to be the next great community that you read about in an article but rather, look inward and focus on how you can maximize your resources to produce an ecosystem that ensures success for businesses who call it home, or will soon call it home. As with successful startups and second stage companies, you must focus on your strengths and outsource the rest. Denver has done well to identify what resources it can bring to the table and what it cannot.  For example, Denver has successfully collaborated with neighboring cities along the Front Range that now work in partnership to bring businesses to the region.

Collaboration is key:

Collaboration is the word you will hear most uttered across the lips of entrepreneurs in Denver. This is true of seasoned entrepreneurs as well as first time founders. When discussing the top reasons why a CEO chose to locate their company to Denver, the word collaboration will certainly make its way into the top three. Collaboration is vital not only among entrepreneurs themselves but also among those that support the ecosystem. This includes government, local universities, long-standing Fortune 500 firms, and others. For example, Denver offers a wide array of support mechanisms and programming to support entrepreneurs such as ScaleUp, Global Landing Pad, and others. Additionally, it partners with successful entrepreneur-led programs such as Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network (BEN) and Colorado Thought Leaders Forum (CTLF) and works in tandem with the universities across the region to provide the connections and resources that entrepreneurs need to be successful. All players in the ecosystem need to be involved. Universities play a major role, from creating job pipelines to thought leadership, but they need to be more accessible to entrepreneurs and allow connections to resources and talent.

Find a champion:

Denver is home to one of the largest free entrepreneurial events of its kind in the country, Denver Start Up Week. This event draws entrepreneurs from all over the world to experience a week of complimentary educational sessions, keynote addresses, and networking. Erik Mitisek, a successful entrepreneur who calls Denver home, co-founded the event. He served as the chief innovation officer for the state of Colorado and created many entrepreneurship support programs provided by local universities. Mitisek championed much of Denver’s success as a thriving entrepreneur ecosystem. City governments would do well to find their own startup champion and support their efforts to bring the entrepreneur community together around a common mission.

As most of us know, local governments do not have an unlimited supply of funding and resources. The best role government can play in building strong ecosystems is to rally behind those who are passionate and have a vision of what is needed in the community. Look at the long-term benefits the ecosystem will bring to the region, then consider how to strategically invest resources with those who can bring the vision to life.

MICHAEL BEVIS

Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship | City and County of Denver

Michael Bevis, MBA, MS, PhD serves as the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the City and County of Denver. It is his job to create… More