Fifty people paused their conversations and turned their attention to the center of the room, where three entrepreneurs were about to share what each hoped would be the next big idea.
Some of the major players in the
- Peak Startup: a nonprofit that promotes education, networking and mentorship for local entrepreneurs, peakstartup.org
- Colorado Springs Technology Incubator: a nonprofit established to accelerate the growth technology startups, cstionline.org
- Epicentral Coworking: a downtown workspace for entrepreneurs and freelancers, epicentral.org
Lee and his cousin,
New Tech, a monthly event where
"When we first started doing pitch night, we often struggled to go for a full five minutes of questions," said
Webster's dictionary defines a startup simply as "a new business venture," but the well-known successes of Facebook,
"A (high-growth) company at some point will have revenue take off at a rate much higher than the number of employees you have to add," said
The late 1990s tech boom sparked some startup activity in the Springs, but only within the last several years has the entrepreneurial community grown in prominence. It's difficult to measure the number of growth-focused tech startups because most data sources track the openings of all businesses. But Startup Colorado, an initiative to develop and connect
It's below the number of high-growth businesses in established hubs such as
Late last year, the Technology Incubator and
"We've had very substantial traction," Denton said.
This year, five teams of tech-focused entrepreneurs camped out at Epicentral Coworking -- a downtown workspace for entrepreneurs and freelancers -- to compete in GoCode Colorado, a statewide competition to develop apps. LocalSage, an app that helps entrepreneurs determine where to launch their businesses, marked the Springs' place on the startup map when it won third place.
Epicentral lets those without an office use its coworking space -- complete with desks, private rooms and a kitchen -- for a monthly fee. Coworking spaces first appeared in
"(Parsons) saw a need for it, and I also saw a need for it," Tessarowicz said. "I was looking for way to support and get to know the entrepreneurial community, and I thought that by starting a coworking space, that could be a first step in getting to know the scene and the players and starting to build a community and support them."
Epicentral has more than 40 members, with about a third of them working on startups, Tessarowicz said. Membership is expected to grow.
"I've seen more energy than I expected, and I've seen more potential than I expected," Tessarowicz said. "There are some really great people here with some really great ideas, and I think that the entrepreneurial community here can grow and have a real impact in our community's economic development."
Despite the surge in activity, the local startup culture is beset with challenges, including a lack of accessible capital, a dearth of young professionals and stagnant economic development in the Springs.
And a significant challenge exists within the entrepreneurial community itself: Competing strategies to accelerate the nascent startup movement have impeded its growth and divided the organizations trying to drive it forward, say those involved with the groups.
"Even the entrepreneurial community itself is siloed," Tessarowicz said. "There are many different groups in the field, and they don't work well together."
From Denton's perspective, a lack of capital in the Springs is one of biggest roadblocks for its startup community. In the final quarter of 2012, Springs-based
"There is an appalling lack of risk capital being deployed in this region," Denton said. "At the end of the day, if it's a serious company and a serious idea, it takes money."
Efforts have been made to generate more capital for Springs-area startups.
Though the fund didn't garner much interest from other investors at the time, he is soliciting investments for another round, he said.
"We've made a few investments in a second fund, we expect to keep doing that," he said.
A number of the Incubator's clients pitch to HAI, many of which produce software products and other tangible technology. ConcealFab, which makes shelters for communications antennas, and FuseSport, an event management software developer, each received funding through HAI. Both are based in the Springs.
But High Altitude makes investments relatively infrequently. The group holds a forum every two to three months and receives about 12 applications from startups in need of funding. A screening committee usually selects about three to present at each forum, and each year, the group makes about three investments total, Denton said.
"Investors want a return on their money," he said. "It's a very competitive environment."
Seeking funding avenues
The limited funding avenues in the Springs has forced some local startups to seek capital elsewhere.
"They don't understand the high-tech startup space," Boles said.
But for others within the startup community, demographic and economic factors pose more of a problem for entrepreneurial development. Many young professionals have left
"We need to create a renaissance in our downtown so that more employers to want to be downtown," Bach said. "We need more affordable housing, more retailers and services, which will then attract young people."
"I've talked to people along the
"There's a static conception of
But the process of creating a dynamic startup environment has only just gotten started, Tessarowicz said.
"To really get this movement going will take a lot of time and a lot of work, and we have to keep hammering it out," she said. "I've seen tremendous improvement, but it's going to take another 10 years for other people to be impressed with it."
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