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Making Denver the Next Great Place for Innovation

Erik Mitisek and Tom Filippini are the Co-Founders of NextGreatPlace.

Dunton Hot Springs, a NextGreatPlace partner destination near Telluride.

Hacienda's inlet beach at a NextGreatPlace partner destination in Cabo San Lucas.

Hacienda Beach Club & Residences, a NextGreatPlace partner destination near Cabo San Lucas.

As the Central Platte Valley's NextGreatPlace reimagines the travel agency for the 21st century, Co-Founders Erik Mitisek and Tom Filippini are bent on making Denver the next great place for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Erik Mitisek lives a somewhat dichotomous life.
 
Half his days are spent shipping people out of Denver. The other half, he's helping bring them here.
 
Mitisek and his partner Tom Filippini are the Co-Founders of NextGreatPlace, a travel agency reimagined for the 21st century, one where the vast reach of the Internet weds the personal touch of a travel agent.

Mitisek is also one of the minds behind Denver Startup Week. And Built in Denver.
 
While NextGreatPlace branches out throughout the country, and eventually the world, it is part of an entrepreneurial scene that promises to make Denver an even greater place for commerce, lifestyle and ingenuity.
 
Erik Mitisek and Tom Filippini are the Co-Founders of NextGreatPlace.NextGreatPlace Takes Off
 
The travel gurus began carving another niche in the hospitality industry, which accounts for roughly 9 percent of the globe's GDP and 255 million jobs worldwide as of early 2011.
 
Filippini, CEO of NextGreatPlace and Co-Founder of Exclusive Resorts, saw a market opportunity when his frustrations began boiling over while planning an extended family trip to Belize, and often found the quality of accomodations markedly different than what was advertised.
 
With that, Filippini and Mitisek created NextGreatPlace. NextGreatPlace members have four- and five-star tastes, yet are budget-conscious, says Mitisek. The Vice President of NextGreatPlace estimates that demographic at roughly 20 million people and is the "lifeblood of that four-star belly of the hospitality market."
 
Members, who pay a $500 annual membership fee, tell NextGreatPlace's PlaceMakers where they'd like to vacation via maps and service on the company's website. The PlaceMakers determine the area's best and most cost-effective options and make the necessary arrangements. As of now, NextGreatPlace has partnerships in about 50 domestic markets and plans to expand to South America and Europe.
 
"I think what's welcome is having some human touch and some elegance around deciphering our members' options and
"I think what's welcome is having some human touch and some elegance around deciphering our members' options and then really being their core advocate in the marketplace," says NextGreatPlace Co-Founder Erik Mitisek.
then really being their core advocate in the marketplace," says Mitisek.
 
In addition to its retail membership, NextGreatPlace also offers corporate services. Think of it as an extension of a company's benefit package, except now employees have access to great vacation perks via their company. Local corporate clients include FullContact and T3Media.
 
Vacation clubs aren't a new concept; they've been around for decades. What NextGreatPlace offers is a modern spin with a personalized touch and a helping hand.
 
"Travel is one of those things that, no matter how much you prepare and plan, you're still dealing with humans, you're still dealing with the unexpected," says Mitisek. "Sometimes it's weather, sometimes it's airplane delays and sometimes it's physically the property."
 
"With NextGreatPlace we try to mitigate the last one as much as possible. By having firsthand experience with the property and the destination, we usually can overcome a lot of that risk. Yet there are always those things in the travel industry that Hacienda's inlet beach at a NextGreatPlace partner destination in Cabo San Lucas.make it an adventure."
 
Next Great Innovation
 
While NextGreatPlace is busy sending Denver residents on their dream vacations, its model of innovation is part of what is elevating the local startup community into the upper echelon of entrepreneurship hubs in the U.S. -- and that is driving people into the city.
 
Innovators such as Filippini and Mitisek, both Colorado natives, have bore witness to Denver's ingenuity, and repeatedly contributed to it. Mitisek alone has been involved with four Denver startups, including Claremont Information Systems, Luxury Brand Partners and the aforementioned Exclusive Resorts.
 
To showcase the city's innovative spirit, Mitisek -- along with Downtown Denver Partnership CEO Tami Door, Ben Deda of FullContact and the Colorado Technology Association's Wendy Nkomo, Jon Rossi and several others -- founded Denver Startup Week in 2012.
 
"The city had been craving it," says Mitisek of the event. "There was a pent-up demand for: 'Let me show you how awesome entrepreneurship is in the city, let me show you what we've been building for a long, long time.'"
 
The weeklong enterprise saw 70 events and close to 3,500 attendees, including numerous local entrepreneurs showcasing their talents. Plans are underway for the second annual Denver Startup Week, which will take place in
"The city had been craving it," says NextGreatPlace Co-Founder Erik Mitisek of Denver Startup Week. "There was a pent-up demand for: 'Let me show you how awesome entrepreneurship is in the city, let me show you what we've been building for a long, long time.'"
September.
 
But Denver's entrepreneurial spirit can't be contained in six days of meetings, mentoring and networking. The city's creative class is constantly creating communities where entrepreneurs are combining business, lifestyle and entertainment within walkable neighborhoods.
 
NextGreatPlace is among them. The travel company, located in the Central Platte Valley at 1740 Platte St., hopes to double its workforce to about 30 employees by the end of 2013. Mitisek and Filippini emphasize location and culture, touting how easily employees can bike to work or have a night out on the town.
 
To encapsulate such Denver companies, Mitisek has helped create Built in Denver, a catchall "platform, advocate, matchmaker and water cooler" for all things entrepreneurial in the Mile High City.
 
Since launching in November, Built in Denver has attracted about 400 members from all walks of the city's entrepreneurial life.
 
The website offers everything from meet-ups and job postings to funding ventures, news and local blogs -- basically a clearinghouse for Denver's startup community.
 
"The idea around Built in Denver is, when all this stuff happens, how do you digitally contain all those relationships in an easy-to-access way that adds value for the community?" says Mitisek, now Built in Denver's Chairman. "We really want it to be an ongoing dialog about digital innovation, digital activities and community building in the city."
 
The creative class, the 25- to 34-year-olds, are flocking to the state and not just for the skiing and the lifestyle. The next step: catalyzing the innovative ecosystem.
 
"It's our responsibility as the entrepreneurs and city planners to do that," says Mitisek. "It's our job to really identify the tent-pole companies that are going to employ not only a few people but hundreds of people. That's the next step.
 
"That's when Denver's going to go from being kind of top 10 or top 15 city into one of the top five cities in the United States. When it's not only a magnet for lifestyle but also for opportunity, they'll never catch us."

Got an innovative idea for a company? Want to see the next phase of Denver's entrepreneurship in action? The second annual Denver Startup Week is slated for September 2013 and is looking for volunteers and other interested parties. Find more information at www.denverstartupweek.com.

Read more articles by Christopher C. Wuensch.

Christopher is a freelance writer and contributor to Confluence
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