June 17, 2019 – In this past Sunday’s paper, GJEP’s “Economic Focus” focused on the local tech ecosystem with a recap of the first-ever Techstars Startup Week West Slope, which was a huge cooperative effort between west slope economic development organizations and local technology companies. Here’s the column by Robin Brown:
In 2017, at GJEP’s Annual Economic Summit, the community voted on priorities. Growing a tech community was ranked #4 and at the time, it seemed like a daunting and almost unattainable goal. We had a few notable tech companies such as Kaart and ProStar Geocorp, but I don’t think anybody would have considered us a place of tech and entrepreneurial innovation.
But then last year, around this time, it became obvious that the tech industry was in fact growing. Local entrepreneurs Brian Watson and Josh Hudnall were repeatedly recognized for leading an effort to grow an innovation ecosystem outside of the I-25 corridor. One only had to walk through Factory Coworking to see a growing number of location neutral companies- people that can work from anywhere and chose the Grand Valley for its access to the outdoors and low cost of living. The Greater Colorado Venture Fund (GCVF) was formed, with $9 Million earmarked for rural businesses, and relationships were forged between the GCVF, the Telluride Venture Accelerator and entrepreneurial leaders all over the west slope.
At the same time, it became apparent that this industry was a bit different than others that we worked to recruit and grow. Workforce needs were a bit different, capital needs were different, even real estate needs didn’t follow our traditional format. The way we had been doing business and our normal recruitment efforts didn’t really work in this new, nebulous sector. As a result, in October, GJEP hired Mara Hardy, our new Business Development Manager, to specifically focus on how to best spend our resources and create an environment for growing an innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem in western Colorado.
In the economic development world, we talk often about vertical and horizontal integration of industries and tools. Manufacturing, for example, is a horizontally integrated sector within most industries. Here in Mesa County, we have energy manufacturing, outdoor gear manufacturing, aerospace manufacturing, and healthcare manufacturing to name a few. Technology is the same- crossing all industries and playing an important and growing role in everything we do. It’s impossible to define the tech industry by itself without crossing into all of the same industries I listed above, including manufacturing, which is transforming by leaps and bounds as the addition of new technologies makes things both easier and more complicated for manufacturers.
While we do have a number of prospects we are working to recruit to the area in the tech sector, more often than not, startup entrepreneurs simply wander into our office looking for resources and tools to help them get established and grow. We introduce them to all of our partners, but most often we send them to the Business Incubator Center – a one-stop-shop for starting and growing a business. The Mesa County Workforce Center, WCCC and CMU are usually key players in providing interns and workforce in computer science, GIS mapping, cybersecurity, and a number of other programs that these startup companies need- even marketing and bookkeeping. We solve problems, help them network, and take on projects that make Mesa County a better place to do business. It’s why our theme at our Annual Economic Summit was Innovate, Educate, Connect.
Our focus on tech with Mara at the helm is paying off. Last week, over 300 entrepreneurs, business owners, venture capitalists, and community leaders, came together in Grand Junction from all over the western slope to take part in the first ever Techstars Startup Week West Slope organized by entrepreneurs from across the region with Title Sponsor US Bank. This free, multi-day, “choose your own adventure” week included 6 program tracks- Growth, Marketing & Communications, Capital, Makers & Producers, Business Toolbox and Fun- and encompassed 50 different sessions and 90 speakers in six locations across the western slope. Brad Feld, Colorado-based author, entrepreneur and investment leader for over 30 years, attended as keynote speaker and held office hours for free consultations with local entrepreneurs. The goal was to bring together innovators to share ideas, learn from each other, build momentum and opportunity and celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit. And, it is free and accessible to all. People left the event with new contacts, better information, and a renewed sense of excitement about doing business in western Colorado. And GJEP continues to evolve in an ever-changing and dynamic world.
If you missed the Techstars Startup Week West Slope, don’t worry. It will be back next year, and in the meantime, there are a number of activities that you can plug into to get to know the community. Go to gjep.orgfor more information or contact Mara Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy Jeremy Poland.