I visited Denver the week of September 16th, 2019 as a Denver Startup Week Ambassador. Denver Startup Week (DSW) is a five day series of events that showcases the vibrant startup scene in Denver. I felt that DSW had a vibe very similar to South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin. There was a ton of awesome programming as well as several evening activities.
As a DSW Ambassador, I had the privilege of getting an intimate series of meetings with some of the most successful startup companies in Denver. We were given exclusive access to startup founders, their leadership teams, and exclusive events during Denver Startup Week.
Out of hundreds of applicants, I was one of 50 people selected to travel to Denver as a DSW Ambassador. I was extremely honored to be a part of this group which was created to span across geographies, industries, and technical backgrounds. We were also a very diverse bunch representing various genders, races, and ethnicities.
Monday - Southwest Airlines, Sheets and Giggles, Catalyst, Pie Insurance
My journey started early in the morning on Monday, September 16th. I normally fly out of George Bush International Airport (IAH), but, Southwest Airlines sponosrs the DSW Ambassador program by providing a free flight for all 50 participants. Since Soutwest only flies out of Houston’s Hobby Airport (HOU), I had to drive from my home in north Houston (passing IAH) to make it to Hobby in time for my flight. Fortunately, it was so early that I didn’t run into any traffic and made it to the airport in almost the same about of time it takes me to get to IAH. I parked my car in the garage and boarded my flight with plenty of time to spare.
I believe that the best flight is an uneventful one, and I made it to Denver without incident. In an effort to keep the cost of travel low, the DSW Amabassor program also provided a free ticket to use for the train from the airport to downtown. So, I walked from the gate to the terminal and boarded the train.
I enjoyed watching the Denver landscape pass by as the train travelled down the track. It has been a couple of years since I was last in Denver, and I enjoyed watching folks get on and off the train. I’m a big fan of public transit because its better for the environment and also costs less than alternative forms of transportation. I soon reached my stop at Union Station.
I prefer to walk as much as possible when I’m get a chance to travel so I did the ten minute walk from Union Station to the Hilton Garden Inn Union Station which was the host hotel for DSW Ambassadors. My room wasn’t ready yet so I decided to visit Basecamp which was the headquarters for all DSW activities. It was cool to see DSW signage all over Downtown Denver.
Basecamp was off the 16th Street Mall near the iconic Daniels and Fisher Tower.
I entered Basecamp which was already starting to hum with activity. I showed the folks at the registration table my DSW email confirmation, and I received my wristband. It was official! I was now part of the DSW experience.
I checked out a few of the vendor and sponsor tables at Basecamp. One was from the winner of DWS last week, a company called Sheets and Giggles. They create sustainable bedding from materials like Eucalyptcus leaves. To my surprise, they gave me a free box of king size sheets wrapped in a nice purple bag.
It was getting close to the meeting time for the Ambassadors so I headed back to the Hilton Garden Inn. I entered the lobby and saw a group of people who had to be my fellow Ambassadors! I started meeting a few of them, but it wasn’t long until we had to go to our first event. The program arranged a set of Lyft codes that we would use to caravan over to Catalyst, a co-working company specializing in the healthcare field located at 3513 Brighton Blvd.
My group was one of the first to arrive, and I was pleasently surprised to see a nice spread of table and beverages when I walked into the room. This was much appreciated after a morning spend flying into Denver and walking around downtown!
I also saw the first of what would be a theme of my experience as a DSW Amabassador. Working in Denver means that you get great views!
We settled into our chairs with our food and listened as Connor told us more about Catalyst and introduced the first speaker.
While we ate, Catalyst’s President Mike Biselli told us the amazing story of the space. It’s an industry integrator designed to provide an environment for companies in the healthcare sector to work next to each other as they navigate the rapid innovations happening in the sector. Whether the organization is a startup or has been around for decades, Catalyst provides a foundation for collaboration and shared learning.
We formed ourselves into Lyft groups again to caravan over to our next stop: Pie Insurance. This started was founded in 2017 to make it easier for small business owners to carry commercial insurance at an affordable price. They specialize in worker’s compensation coverage.
After arriving at their office on Blake Street, we went up to their office on the fifth floor. After being seated, we met their leadership team (John Swigart, Co-Founder and CEO; Dax Craig, Co-Founder and President; Mike Gionfriddo, CTO; Jason Friedlander, Chief Product Officer; and Melissa Eaton, VP of Customer Care) who gave us an overview of the company. I was then delighted to learn that we would take part in an activity to help improve Pie Insurance!
Tuesday - Evolve, Guild, VIP Dinner at Polsinelli
Wednesday - Ibotta, Back to Houston
Areas for Improvement
- Cover all transportation costs (ground transportation)
- Include even more interactivity
- Reduce time spent moving from place to place. Have a host company provide a home base for the Ambassadors and have the other startup companies spend time with the Ambassadors there. The three days we had in the program flew by, and this would add a few hours to the schedule by cutting down on travel time.