Denver entrepreneur Tom Higley is putting together a business plan competition that he hopes will bring 10 startup CEOs to Denver for 10 days in October to seek out 10 market opportunities and secure an investment of up to $500,000.
The CEOs would compete for three investments in hopes that one of the companies would remain and grow in Denver, Higley told nearly 100 entrepreneurs, investors and others attending Peak Venture Group's "Evening with Entrepreneurs" on Wednesday at the Mining Exchange Hotel in downtown Colorado Springs. Higley has founded six technology startups and is a mentor in the TechStars, a three-month startup accelerator program in Boulder and five other locations in which participants receive advice from entrepreneurs, a $100,000 loan and a chance to pitch for investment.
"We are looking for 10 problems with significant market opportunities, 10 would-be CEOs from around the country that would come to Denver for 10 days in October," Higley said. "We will fund three of them, but it won't be a large amount because we want the CEO to be responsible for raising the money and building the team. It needs to be enough to attract top talent, and we will be looking for a fund to invest alongside of us. Our expectation is one of the three will stay in Denver and the other two will return to where the CEO is from."
Higley plans to kick off planning in May for his "10-10-10" program, which he said is a way to draw attention to a growing startup community in Denver that still lacks several elements needed to become as successful as those in the Boston or San Francisco Bay areas. He said Colorado hasn't had a highly profitable exit from a startup -- through either a public offering or sale -- by a venture capital or other investor in many years and needs at least one other venture capital fund based in the state to fund startup companies.
Higley described how he co-founded, with Niel Robertson, Boulder-based Service Metrics, a company that developed software to measure website performance from the user's perspective. California-based Internet hosting provider Exodus Communications acquired Service Metrics in 1999 for stock valued at $280 million and sought U.S. Bankruptcy Court protection from its creditors less than two years later. Higley now heads Vokl, a Denver startup that is creating a smartphone application to help businesses better connect with customers through Facebook and Twitter.
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