A nonprofit wants to help startup companies grow in Southwest Colorado by providing an online network for entrepreneurs.
Startup Colorado aims to help rural entrepreneurs make connections within a statewide network of resources including those that help raise capital, provide education, identify mentorships and offer government aid.
For the past 11 years, Startup Colorado was a part of the University of Colorado Law School but has now become a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a commitment to serving rural entrepreneurs in Durango and other rural cities across Colorado.
The organization was started in 2011 by Phil Weiser, who now serves as attorney general for Colorado, and Techstars Co-Founder Brad Feld.
It was primarily focused on startups near Boulder, but in 2017 it relaunched as an organization geared toward helping rural startups.
“During that time, we conducted a number of surveys visiting different towns, including Durango, in which the team did a survey mapping out what the entrepreneurial ecosystem was and then providing a road map to start developing a healthy entrepreneurial environment,” said Startup Colorado spokeswoman Margaret Hedderman.
Startup Colorado serves an online community that has over 1,200 members across the state.
The goal is to help rural communities by promoting entrepreneurships. Hedderman said creating an environment in which entrepreneurs can thrive helps rural communities with job creation. It also provides diversity of employment.
“Entrepreneurs and small business owners are driving the change in Colorado’s rural communities,” said Executive Director Taylor Grande in a news release. “But they can’t do it alone. It takes a concentrated effort with a local-first lens to build vibrant business communities that provide entrepreneurs with the resources they need to start and scale businesses in the places they call home.”
Startup Colorado shares some similarities with Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs. However, SCAPE is an accelerator program, which means it works with a select number of entrepreneurs in cohorts.
“We don't have a really strict set of programming in the way an accelerator program does. We work at a bigger, broader level,” Hedderman said.
Startup Colorado offers more of an online approach in working with entrepreneurs at any step of their business creation.
Most notably, Startup Colorado offers a pre-accelerator program called Founder CO-OPetition, which helps prepare entrepreneurs to enter an accelerator program like SCAPE. Generally, pre-accelerators work with companies during their idea stage or prelaunch stage, whereas accelerator programs usually work with entrepreneurs whose brand is more established.
The organization started its first Founder CO-OPetition with two cohorts in 2021, one of which was Farm to Summit which went on to be a SCAPE cohort this year.
In addition, Startup Colorado has also worked with Southwest Colorado businesses like TripOutside, EsoTerra Cider and Gravity Lab.
In 2023, it will take on five cohorts across Colorado.
Storytelling is another area of emphasis for Startup Colorado. The organization runs a narrative podcast that speaks with entrepreneurs about their business to help them get exposure and media coverage.
“We try to elevate the stories of rural entrepreneurs, both for rural and urban audiences,” Hedderman said.
Startup Colorado will be the fiscal sponsor behind the West Slope Startup Week, which will be held this year in Durango.
West Slope Startup Week is a multiday event in August that allows entrepreneurs to attend workshops, presentations and network. Previously, the event was held in Grand Junction.
Last year’s event had over 500 participants and 110 guest speakers. Startup Colorado also collaborates with SCAPE and Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center to provide resources for businesses.
“We work with Brittany Cupp and Elizabeth Marsh (of SCAPE) regularly and we've supported their showcase with sponsorships the last few years,” Hedderman said.