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Denver launches business accelerator for healthy foods in underserved neighborhoods

The Denver Office of Economic Development has partnered with The Unreasonable Institute to launch the Food Access Project  in underserved neighborhoods. The accelerator is offering a training and mentorship program to support 10 ventures to improve access to food in select low-income communities in Denver. 

“It’s exciting to be able to bring the city’s resources together with the ingenuity of entrepreneurs,” says Teju Ravilochan, CEO of The Unreasonable Institute. “This partnership combines the innovation of nimble startups with the systems-shifting capabilities of the city government, creating the potential to really make a lot of people’s lives better.” 

The program is focused on reducing food insecurity in Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Montbello, Westwood, Northeast Park Hill, Five Points, and other neighborhoods. Early stage ventures can apply to the Food Access Project through June 25.

“This is part of our proactive approach to building healthier communities throughout the city,” explains Amy Edinger, OED interim executive director. “By targeting entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofits, we recognize that Denver has a broad talent pool of individuals that, with a little support and key introductions, can make a lasting difference in addressing food insecurity.”

The program will provide each of the participants with a five-day in-person bootcamp. The effort will also provide six months of support from mentors, financial modeling training from Unreasonable Financial Architects, access to investors, and a network of over 530 Unreasonable Institute ventures across the world.
 

With more than 1,000 proposals in Denver Startup Week is ready for your votes

The nation’s largest free entrepreneurial event—Denver Startup Week—received a record 1,039 session proposals this year. That’s up from 944 proposals submitted last year. Now it’s up to the public to help organizers choose which sessions should be held—last year the event hosted more than 300 programs. 

“Our entrepreneurial community is the envy of cities across the country,” says Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “We now have nearly 700 tech startups in Downtown, employing close to 5,000 people. Companies large and small are coming to Denver to positively impact our economy and help grow our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

“We continue to be impressed with not only the volume, but the quality of proposals submitted and now it’s up to the entire entrepreneurial community to help tell us what programs they find the most interesting and valuable,” says Ben Deda, vice president of channels and ecosystems at Vertafore and co-leader of the event’s organizing committee.

The organizers will accept votes for Denver Startup Week through May 28, 2017. The event's organizing committee will sift through the results and determine which proposals will become sessions during the sixth annual startup week from Sept. 25-29.

In addition to the five tracks of Denver Startup Week—Founder, Growth, Maker, Product, Designer, and Developer—this year’s schedule also will include topic and industry clusters focused social impact, the Internet of things, health care technology, diversity and inclusion, cannabis and business basics. 

“When more than 1,000 people step up to share their insight and knowledge with others, it signals that Downtown Denver continues to be one of the best places in the country to start and grow a business,” said Erik Mitisek, executive director of Project X-ITE at the University of Denver and co-founder of Denver Startup Week.

To help people wade through the potential sessions and vote, organizers recommended that voters search for trends, themes and topics that interest them. They can also sort session proposals by cluster and organize sessions by their favorite track. Site users can vote on each session once.

Bold Legal and Innovation Pavilion partnered to offer legal services for startups

With so many startups launching in the Denver and greater Front Range region, there’s a need for legal help designed to meet startups’ needs, from establishing company bylaws to organizing business operations and more. To meet those needs, Innovation Pavilion (IP)—a startup center—in southern Denver has started Bold Legal to provide counseling and legal services. 

“A legal structure is crucial to the success of any entrepreneurial venture and we are excited to extend this fantastic resource to our community,” explains IP CEO Vic Ahmed. “We are grateful for Bold Legal’s support and I am certain our community will reap many benefits from their work.” The organization has a history of making innovative partnerships to help its tenants start and grow their businesses.

Bold Legal will provide a number of services including regular monthly hours and free access to legal advice for IP’s tenants. Also, Bold Legal’s first billable hour for IP’s tenants will be free. It will provide insight into issuing equity, raising capital, hiring and more. It will also provide a ‘starter suite’ of documents and forms for IP’s startups, including bylaw and articles of incorporation forms, investment agreements, non-disclosure agreements and more. 

“More than a co-working space, Innovation Pavilion is a training ground, a social capital nexus and a home for the entrepreneurial community of Colorado,” says Bold Legal founder and attorney David Ray. “Entrepreneurs and startup companies deserve fearless service providers. Our job is to facilitate evolution, simplify complexity, push through the conventional envelope and smooth the way for great ideas to change industries. We are delighted to partner with Innovation Pavilion and, together, deliver exceptional value to Colorado’s rich entrepreneurial community.”

The legal firm, which has offices in Denver and Boulder, also will co-sponsor IP’s monthly “Access to Capital” events. The events include panels of venture capital, angel and other investors who will discuss the capital-raising process for entrepreneurs and startups.
 

Co.Starters now offering (an affordable) boot camp for would-be startups

The Co.Starters program has graduated more than 3,000 entrepreneurs nationwide and now it’s coming to Denver’s Commons on Champa. The nine-week business development program will launch on May 17 and will help participants learn about launching businesses with a community of peers. 

“This nine week program equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships and tools needed to turn business ideas into action. Unlike traditional platforms, Co.Starters applies the lean business modeling methods popular among high-growth startups to businesses of all kinds,” explains Jacqui Dietrich program manager at the Commons.

“The program is new to The Commons and will be a regular offering focused specially on women and minorities,” Dietrich says. However, she adds, “The Co.Starters program is open to any new business or new product idea, regardless of sector or industry.” While this is the first time the program is launching in Colorado, it’s been used in other cities including Chattanooga, Cincinnati and Detroit. 

“Up to 15 aspiring entrepreneurs will be admitted to the first Co.Starters at The Commons cohort. The deadline to apply for the upcoming cohort is May 3,” Dietrich says. The program, supported in part by the Kauffman Foundation, will cost participants $125 including curriculum and meals. 

The program, Dietrich says, helps participants understand their assumptions about their businesses and how they will work and then enables them to talk with their target customers to validate their ideas. “This approach enables entrepreneurs to rapidly uncover flaws in their concepts and find viable models more quickly,” she says.

The Commons plans to offer cohorts on a rolling basis. Entrepreneurs can apply here and successful entrepreneurs who wish to serve as mentors for the program can register to help here. 

Want to get into the brewing business? Colorado Enterprise Fund will show you how

When Colorado Small Business Week launches on April 30, the Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF) will host a number of  events showcasing the state's smaller enterprises helping entrepreneurs launch new businesses. To help them capitalize on the regional brewing craze, CEF, for the first time, is hosting a workshop aimed at craft beer startups. The workshop, Crafting Success: From Home Brews to Beer Biz, will be hosted at the Commons on Champa on May 5 from 1:00 pm–2:30 pm. 

“With the increase in brewery startups CEF is financing in Colorado, we felt it would be helpful to showcase some of our successful borrowers so others could see it’s possible to follow your dream and make a living,” says Alisa Zimmerman, director of marketing and communications at CEF. 

The event will feature Chad Miller of Black Shirt Brewing Co, Brian O’Connell of Renegade Brewing, Tom Jasko of Colorado Craft Distributors and David Levesque of Launch Pad Brewery. Each of the companies received support from CEF. For instance, Renegade recently expanded into a 15,000 square-foot warehouse and received a working capital loan from CEF in August 2016. 

CEF also is supporting ancillary brewing businesses, like Colorado Craft Distributors, which launched in 2016. The business is a wholesaler of beer, cider, spirits and wine. The founders received a working capital loan from CEF in 2017.

“The featured borrowers each produce, package and distribute their products differently, and may share info on resources they use. We expect them to touch on these areas depending on their current operations and future plans,” Zimmerman explains.

As part of Colorado Small Business Week, CEF will host other events, including tours of refugee and immigrant small businesses in Aurora. It also will host the Colorado Emerging Ventures Breakfast, where entrepreneurs will learn about what a business needs to qualify for a loan. CEF also will host the SBA Colorado Business Week Awards Reception on Wednesday, May 3 at Denver Public Library.

Denver Startup Week Accepting Session Proposals Through Friday

The nation’s largest free startup event, Denver Startup Week, is gearing up for 2017 and it wants your input, soon. The event, which will take place Sept. 25-29, is seeking ideas for sessions in six different tracks to help entrepreneurs learn about launching and growing startups. The deadline for submissions, however, is April 21.

The sessions are in addition to headline events, which bring industry leaders to discuss entrepreneurship, launching a startup and more. The track categories this year include designer, developer, founder, growth, maker and product. Each is intended to address the functional roles in a startup team and will be led by industry experts. 

Last year, the event brought more than 13,000 people to 300 sessions. Organizers, including the Downtown Denver Partnership, Colorado Technology Association and Startup Colorado, expect this year’s startup week, the sixth, will attract even more attendees.

After the deadline passes track chairs will evaluate the submission proposals and approve them for voting on by the community. Then the organizing committee will use the votes and comments to guide the selection and scheduling process.

Sessions in the past have included individual and group presentations as well as panels, workshops and social events. Organizers said that ideas focused on transferring knowledge to the community have the best chance of being selected. T

Innovators, entrepreneurs and others can register and submit proposals here: SUBMIT A TOPIC.

Two teams from Denver make it to Go Code Colorado’s next round

The annual challenge to use public data to create business insights in Colorado, Go Code Colorado, is getting ready for the mentorship weekend April 21-23. Two Denver teams, <div>ersity and Magpie Supply, are among the finalists. In all, more than 230 people participated in the Challenge Weekend events this year. 

“Each year, Go Code Colorado participation and enthusiasm increases across the state,” said Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, whose office runs the contest. “The high-caliber app and business concepts created during challenge weekend will further encourage government entities of all sizes to make their data available to developers and entrepreneurs so its inherent value can be fully utilized.”

The first team, <div>ersity, is harnessing data to create a hiring tool that will help companies build diverse teams. The other team, Magpie Supply, is using data to solve transportation problems for farmers. 

Both teams will join the other finalists in the expenses-paid mentoring weekend. During the weekend,the finalists will have a chance to discuss their ideas with leaders from Techstars, Boomtown, House of Genius and others from Colorado’s tech and entrepreneurial community. 

After that, they will compete for three $25,000 awards, which will be decided in a final competition on May 24. The awards will help the winners move their ideas into the next stage as apps or startup businesses.
 

Denver takes advantage of a soaring economy with JumpStart 2017

Last week Denver introduced JumpStart 2017, its sixth annual strategic jobs plan for economic development.

JumpStart is more than an annual strategy, it is a statement of values for how Denver builds a local economy that secures our community’s legacy and maintains our city’s unique character in the years ahead,” according to Mayor Michael Hancock, who unveiled the plan, put together by the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED).  “In 2017, our eyes are squarely focused on taking the necessary strides to help ensure that all residents have the opportunity to benefit from Denver’s vibrant economy.”

As such, the plan focuses on increasing economic mobility and establishes anti-displacement strategies in certain neighborhoods. In 2017 that focus will include the neighborhoods of Montbello, Westwood, Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. The strategies are designed to help uplift ailing neighborhoods while reducing urban poverty. 

The mayor’s office said that the JumpStart is helping to create jobs in Denver. The previous year’s report aided the development of nearly 3,000 new jobs and assisted the city in retaining 7,000 jobs, according to the office. The strategies helped spur $111.4 million in capital investments and also funded the creation of 579 affordable homes. 

“With strong employment and wage growth, Denver has led the nation as one of the most vibrant economies,” explains OED Executive Director Paul Washington. “We’ve thoughtfully identified goals for JumpStart that we believe will make the most of the opportunities before us.”

The 2017 strategies include encouraging developers of projects financed by OED to hire low-income residents for entry-level positions. It also will support the creation of a maker space, a collaborative space to allow entrepreneurs access to manufacturing resources. The plan will also help create cooperative business ownership models in the targeted neighborhoods.

Colorado Homebuilding Academy trains workers for an industry that badly needs them

One of the continuing stories across Colorado, and the Denver metro area in particular, is growth. The region is experiencing nearly unprecedented employment and population expansion, thanks to numerous sectors like, such as IT and cannabis. That has also led to a construction boom and the demand for more housing, which means it needs construction workers. That’s where the newly launched, Colorado Homebuilding Academy fits in. 

The Denver-based academy is aimed at training unemployed adults, military veterans and youth for careers in homebuilding and construction. It offers a "construction skills" boot camp that lasts for eight weeks. The academy already has partnerships with five high schools. “We have high school training programs that last for a semester with our partner schools and our superintendent training program has 5 courses that last for about 9 months,” explains Michael Smith, director of the Colorado Homebuilding Academy.

“The training programs are offered at no cost to the participant if they can genuinely commit to wanting to enter the construction industry and are ready to start a career after training,” Smith says. “The tuition is covered by a blend of supporters from industry contributions, local government workforce development offices, and community grant programs.”

The need for construction workers is greater than ever as vocational training programs have waned. “Our peers in commercial construction (Associated General Contractors) commissioned an economic impact report that stated over 30,000 people are needed for the Colorado construction industry over the next 5 years...and that count is not including those that are retiring over the same period,” explains Michael Smith, director of the Colorado Homebuilding Academy. 

“Over 80 percent of the builders polled by NAHB are experiencing labor shortages that are slowing down the home building process,” Smith adds. Nationwide that means the homebuilding industry could add roughly 200,000 employees to meet the latest homebuilding boom. 

The new academy was initiated by Oakwood Homes’ CEO Pat Hamill, who brought the industry together to support it. “Oakwood Homes is leading the industry by providing substantial financial support for the development, operations and student tuition assistance programs for the Colorado Homebuilding Academy,” Smith says. “Precision Building Systems, a manufacturer of trusses and wall panels for residential construction, has donated 25,000 square feet of their manufacturing plant to house the Academy offices and training center.”

“The homebuilding industry has been plagued by a shortage of high-quality workers,” Hamill says. “Preparing and training the workforce is the key to ensuring our industry remains healthy.”

 

"The Whiskey Film" launches crowdfunding campaign

The filmmakers behind brewing documentary Crafting A Nation are now turning their lens on craft distilling in their new project, The Whiskey Film.

The project follows the story of the craft distilling revolution that's taken hold in Colorado in the recent years. "The whiskey industry in the United States is over 200 years old and when a Congressional resolution declared bourbon whiskey as America's native spirit in 1964, it gained a legitimacy in heritage. No other country can call their spirit bourbon whiskey. Since then, state laws have loosened to allow more distilleries to open and thrive," says Thomas Kolicko, the film's director. "What we're seeing now is a lot of very creative and driven entrepreneurs build upon the tradition. The Whiskey Film features the new generation of whiskey craftsmen and women and dives deep into the agriculture ties behind the end result."

The documentary, which will feature craft distillers from across the country, has focused on three Colorado companies: Colorado Springs-based Distillery 291, Deerhammer in Buena Vista and Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa. The documentary crew is currently looking for up to nine more distillers and whiskey-related agricultural operations to capture their stories, according to Stacey Fronek, a producer with Traverse Image, the production company behind the documentary. 

"This is a story about American craft whiskey and to tell that story well, we want to include distilleries from across the country who are innovating and demonstrate a strong connection to agriculture," Fronek explains. 

While Bourbon County and Kentucky Bourbon are often considered the home of bourbon and the heart of US whiskey manufacturing, Fronek says:  "To us, Colorado is the symbolic epicenter of the movement that is defining craft whiskey." Still, she adds, "We love Bourbon County and Kentucky bourbon, and have high hopes for filming there because of the rich history and tradition."

Traverse Image launched an Indiegogo campaign to support The Whiskey Film on March 15. It hopes to raise at least $100,000 to support the production of the project as each minute of the documentary costs roughly $1,000 to complete. "As we continue to fund the campaign, new filming locations will be 'unlocked' on the Indiegogo page," Fronek says. "Until then, the site of our next shoot will remain a mystery!"

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Community Wealth Building Network announces first job opportunity

Metro Denver's Community Wealth Building Network aims to build wealth within the community through increasing local ownership, control of resources and income. To date, the network was supported by volunteers at other organizations. But now, it's ready to hire its first staff member. 

"We are looking for someone who can not only connect with disenfranchised community residents, but also feels comfortable meeting with organizational and Metro Denver leaders," says Patrick Horvath, interim vice president at The Denver Foundation. "Denver is on the cutting edge of this movement and we can be a proving ground for innovative economic strategies that lift whole communities."

To that end, the Community Wealth Building Network's new fellow will conduct on-the-ground research into current and potential community wealth building in the metro area. The fellow will work to strengthen connections between such efforts and with the network's partners. They will create a five- to seven-year community wealth building vision and plan for metro Denver.

Community wealth building engages in creating sustainable businesses that keep jobs and resources within the community. It also promotes land trusts, local procurement by institutions including universities and hospitals, local investing circles and community empowerment.

"Look at the Green Taxi company, which is the largest worker co-operative in Colorado: All the drivers own a share in the company as well as their vehicles," says Halisi Vinson, executive director of Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center (RMEOC), an organization that helps companies move from sole proprietorship to employee-owned businesses.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Colorado Harvest Company introduces Operation TransparenC

Colorado Harvest Company is introducing Operation TransparenC, an effort to show its growing processes in great detail to consumers and other industry members. In doing so, the company is aiming to show consumers how legal cannabis growers are distinguishing themselves from black market growers. The company is posting information about the purity and potency cannabis available from its three Colorado Harvest centers.

"Colorado Harvest Company is leading the way on  TransparenC, but our hope is that other companies follow suit," says CEO Tim Cullen. "I would welcome any partnership that has the same goals in mind." 

The company announced the new program last week after the the Colorado Department of Agriculture showed the purity of Colorado Harvest’s cannabis for the second consecutive year. The department tested hundreds of the company’s samples between November 2016 and January 2017. 

"We are constantly working toward ways to be different while providing a high quality experience for our customers," Cullen says. "There are two ways to look at regulation. One, it's a great opportunity for us to differentiate ourselves from the black market and shine for our customers; or two, the regulation becomes the focus and not the customer. We have to keep our eye on the ball while we comply with ever increasing demands from regulatory bodies." 

Cullen has begun speaking with 22 officials from state agriculture departments as far away as Florida and Guam. He also is presenting information about profitable and compliant production methods at two upcoming cannabis conferences.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Commons on Champa looks back on its first full year at new campus

The Commons on Champa, Denver's center for entrepreneurship and innovation, recently released its 2016 impact report. The center reports that since launching its campus on the eponymous Champa St. downtown in 2015, it's served more than 23,000 community members.

The center has served those entrepreneurs through 450 programs and events it's hosted with 145 partners. That includes hosting 19 Meetup groups per month. The center also plays an integral part in Denver Startup Week and has hosted 4,000 people at events during that entrepreneurship juggernaut.

The bulk of those programs, 275, were hosted in 2016, according to the Commons. The programs were presented by 120 partners and 85 percent of them were free to the public. Through Denver's Office of Economic Development, the Commons also offered 326 hours of one on one assistance in helping people launch startups. 

To further support growth in Denver's innovator space, the Commons launched the InCommons Mentorship Program in 2016. That program connects entrepreneurs, innovators and disruptors with business leaders, innovators, and investors. It allows them to attend monthly mentor hours at the campus, join industry specific and subject matter forums and share online resources. It also gains them access to online, collaborative goal-setting tools. The offering already includes 240 members and 80 mentors and financial support from 20 partners.

As a capstone to its efforts in 2016, the Commons on Champa was awarded an Inclusion Challenge grant from the Kauffman Foundation. The campus will use the $400,000 grant in 2017 and 2018 to expand entrepreneurship focused on the inclusion of military veterans, women, people of color and new American citizens. It offers eight-week programs to help participants launch their businesses.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Denver Food Vision introduced for public comment

The first draft of the Denver Food Vision is open to public comment through the end of January. Officials aim to help the city further improve the food system, create jobs and improve access to healthy food.

Officials say Denver's food system includes tens of thousands of skilled food system employees, thousands of businesses and hundreds of nonprofits, school and community gardens. It also includes food pantries and emergency food access. Despite those factors, the city also states that nearly 20 percent of children experience food insecurity or hunger. The new plan aims to address all those issues.

"From farm to table, Denver's food system presents an incredible opportunity to strengthen the health of our communities, as well as promote business development and job creation," says Mayor Michael Hancock. "Through this community vision, we will have a solid framework in place to help guide public and private resources to build a stronger, more resilient Denver."

In developing the food vision plan, the city held 11 community listening sessions and 11 focus groups with food businesses that generated nearly 5,000 comments. The city also is seeking feedback and hosting two hearings on Jan. 12, one at Mile High United Way from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m and another at the Commons on Champa from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. People can also comment on the draft via an online survey. People can also email their questions and comments to DenverFoodPlan@denvergov.org.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.

Denver Startup Week announces 2017 dates

Denver Startup Week recently announced that it will host the nation's largest free entrepreneurial event in 2017 from Sept. 25 through Sept. 29. In early 2017 the organizations behind the events will offer more details, including things like how to propose session ideas.

The event, which is returning for its sixth year in 2017, has quickly become massive. In 2016 1,334 people signed up to attend the events, which included 306 free programs held throughout downtown Denver aimed spurring and growing the local innovation and entrepreneurship community in the city and state.

"Denver Startup Week is a celebration of entrepreneurship, and the diversity of industries represented allows everyone to learn from outside of their respective 'box,'" says Anthony Franco, founder of Denver startup mcSquares. "There is something in the air here in Denver that is electrifying for founders, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it."

The organizing committee behind Denver Startup Week includes Galvanize COO Ben Deda, Downtown Denver Partnership CEO Tami Door and Executive Director of the University of Denver's Project X-ITE Erik Mitisek. They announced the new dates on Nov. 15, which the Obama Administration named National Entrepreneurship Day this year, in recognition of entrepreneurs across the country. 

"National Entrepreneurship Day was designated with a call to action to support budding entrepreneurs, and tap into the diverse skills and talents of the entrepreneurial community to create businesses of the 21st century. It seemed only fitting that we leverage this day to announce that Denver Startup Week will return for a sixth year as one of the best resources in the nation for those looking to start or grow a business," Deda says.

Contact Confluence Denver Innovation & Jobs News Editor Chris Meehan with tips and leads for future stories at chris@confluence-denver.com.
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