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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.

Access Gallery launches 2017 with "Stick 'em up Chuck"

Access Gallery in the Art District on Santa Fe is aimed at helping those with disabilities experience art, including by making art. Its latest gallery show, "Stick 'em up Chuck," which opens Jan. 6 and runs through Feb. 3, is a prime example of accessible art by using stickers as the medium.

The works were inspired street artists and Gonkar Gyatso, a contemporary Tibetan artist, whose work uses both Buddhist iconography and pop images like colorful children's stickers.

"We wanted to see what we could really do with everyday objects that need little if any artistic talent," explains Access Gallery Director Damon McLeese. "We have a smiley face piece made of 10,000 smiley face stickers, a huge teddy bear, a fish and a car based on one of our ArtWorks artist drawings."

The exhibit is the culmination of the VSA Colorado and Access Gallery's fall residency programs in which the participants explored mediums that are highly accessible materials for those with significant physical and mental disabilities. They focused on materials that are inexpensive, easily transported and workable as well as sticky, tacky and tactile. Stickers, they found, met those needs.

"One of our volunteers hooked us up with a bevy of stickers and we decided to make an entire gallery show made of stickers," McLeese says. Longmont, Colorado-based StickerGiant provided the bulk of raw materials for the show.

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

The Denver Art Museum seeks ideas for Untitled Final Fridays in 2017

The Denver Art Museum is hosting "Meet Here: An Evening of Untitled Idea Brewing and Creative Criss-Cross" on Nov. 18, a brainstorming event for creatives and others to generate ideas for outdoor installations, residencies and the 2017 Untitled Final Fridays series of events at the museum. The events bring local artists and the community together for exhibitions and installations. The workshop is open from 6 to 8 in the evening.

"Ideas are needed for upcoming projects including outdoor installations, residencies, and 2017's Untitled Final Fridays," explains Camila Navarrette, a spokesperson for the museum. "Local craftsmen, chefs, musicians, artists and other movers and makers are invited to brainstorm the activities for the upcoming Untitled season and potential new programs for DAM."

The free event is being held from 6 to 8 p.m. on the first floor of the North Building and will include food and beverages from a cash bar. The event will include mini-think tank sessions where attendees will work together to generate ideas. 

People can send RSVPs to lhegge@denverartmuseum.org.

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


TalkBox makes business meetings more personal

Open floor plans are nearly ubiquitous in business these days. They offer some great advantages like collaboration among team members, easily configurable space, and they're less expensive. They're also louder and filled with distractions, which can make meetings difficult. That's where Denver-based TalkBox, which launched in July 2016, enters the picture. 

"Offices today are built around community/team areas, full openness for collaboration and temporary stations for the mobile workers," explains TalkBox co-founder Todd Budin. "Having a single-person room which can be moved around fits right into this new definition of the office." 

The TalkBox takes its cue from the tried and tested phone booth -- although it was designed for business. As such, it includes a desk space, ventilation, a door with a window and soundproofing. 

"We actually follow the ABCs of noise reduction in our design," says Budin. "A, absorb the user's sound so that it doesn't create a bad echo experience and so that it doesn't reverberate to be heard from outside. B, block external noise from coming in. C, cover the internal and external sounds with white noise to help mask anything left over."

The units are flexible Budin says, and take advantage of the wireless communications networks we use today. "We have a lot of clients who just rely on their wifi, but also some high bandwidth clients (e.g., engineering firms, big data companies) who drop an Ethernet line into the TalkBox," Budin says. "It's easier to drop a line in there than it is to wire up any sort of junction box, so we've gone that route." 

Currently, the company is selling roughly two units, which are made in Colorado, weekly. The majority of its clients are in Colorado, San Francisco and Detroit at this point. Thus far most are companies with open floor plans. But some coworking operations, like Shift Workspaces or Galvanize, are potential clients, Budin says. The rooms start at $5,700. 

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

Colorado Enterprise Fund awarded $2.4M to support small business in low-income areas

The Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF) received a total of $2.4 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund to support its small business lending and technical assistance programs as well as its Colorado Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI).

Of the total, $1.75 million will go to CEF's small business lending and technical assistance programs. The remaining $650,000 will support HFFI in Colorado. 

"We are honored to receive these two awards from the CDFI Fund this year," says Ceyl Prinster, president and CEO of Colorado Enterprise Fund. "This dual funding will increase our ability to finance businesses that create jobs, enhance economic vitality and expand community prosperity, as well as contribute to the health of Colorado's citizens through broader access to fresh, healthy foods."

Since 1996, CEF has been awarded nearly $10.9 million to increase access to capital and technical assistance for small business owners. The awards have helped small businesses leverage more than $54 million in public and private-sector capital lending to more than 1,800 businesses creating over 16,000 jobs.  

The HFFI awards will help CEF reduce food deserts throughout Colorado and increase access to fresh, healthy food options. Thus far HFFI has received $2.2 million (including the $650,000 just announced) to support its programs. 

Two other organizations in Colorado also received funding from the CDFI, which gave a total of $185.7 million to 196 organizations designated as CDFIs across the country. The other recipients in Colorado were Colorado Housing Enterprises in Westminster and Alamosa, which received $1.25 million, and La Plata Homes Fund in Durango, which received $700,000.

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

City releases new Denver Capital Matrix funding directory

The fifth edition of the Denver Capital Matrix  includes more than 400 potential funding sources. The city's Office of Economic Development offers the directory to help connect entrepreneurs and innovators with organizations and entities that can help them grow.

The office introduced the matrix during toward the end of Denver Startup Week to help give it maximum impact among startups and entrepreneurs. "Access to capital is a critical thread through every startup venture, and there are far more options for financing than many entrepreneurs realize," says OED Executive Director Paul Washington. "Denver enjoys a very healthy mix of investment and financing resources that are supporting our entrepreneurs."

The funding sources identified in the Denver Capital Matrix are a mix of investors, including banks, venture capital firms, private equity firms, angel investors, mezzanine sources, investment banking institutions and others. In addition to contact information, the matrix also identifies what type of investor they are and their target industries.

The matrix has grown significantly. "The 2012 edition listed approximately 260 resources, while this year's edition includes just over 400 resources," says Derek Woodbury, communications director with the Office of Economic Development. 

As a data source, the Denver Capital Matrix is limited to data and doesn't go into details, Woodbury explains. "While the document does not include grant forms or capital pitching tips, our office does provide one-on-one advisory hours to startups and entrepreneurs at the Commons on Champa."

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

Founder Institute offers free entrepreneur classes to explore launching semester in Denver

The Founder Institute is offering free classes aimed at entrepreneurs to gauge interest in launching a winter 2016 semester of classes in Denver. The institute will launch the free classes on Sept. 21 with "Making the Leap from Employee to Entrepreneur."

"The Denver/Boulder region is one of the most attractive places in the country to build a startup," says Adeo Ressi of The Founder Institute. "Our program aims to identify and develop the next great set of entrepreneurs in Denver and prepare them to take advantage of everything the region has to offer."

The institute, which helps launch startups from the idea stage, has operated in Denver since 2010 and has helped launch companies including BittyPets and CipherPoint Software, among others. Its program is unique in encouraging people to grow their businesses even if they're still working day jobs. Also, with those startups that enter into its incubator program the institute offers an equity share when one of those startups reach success. 

In Denver the new efforts are being led by Mollie Rusher, Rob Rusher and Chad Johnson, who are Denver's co-director of the local Founder Institute. "A new Denver Founder Institute program could provide aspiring entrepreneurs (including people with just an idea) with the training, mentorship and network to build a global company in Denver," says Rob Rusher, Mollie's husband and founder of Cheddar Up, GrowBuddy and RealSoulful. "It is a great fit for Denver because explosive growth and strong entrepreneurial community."

“Working with hundreds of startups as a founder of a co-working space, I'm excited for the opportunity for Founder Institute to help people understand what it's like to go from employee to entrepreneur, and help them achieve success in their business,” adds Johnson, an architect and founder of Thrive Workplace.

Following the initial session, the institute will hold two more free sessions: "Startup Funding 101: How to Raise Capital for Your Idea" on Oct. 6 and a Founder Institute information session on Oct. 12.

The Founder Institute is requesting  people to fill out an interest form at http://fi.co/apply/denver before Oct. 16.

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

Denver Startup Week kicks off schedule of more than 250 events

This year's Denver Startup Week kicked off Monday morning with a breakfast headlined by former Dallas Cowboys fullback and Under Armor co-founder Ryan Wood. Also the owner of Sweetwood Cattle Company in Steamboat Springs, Wood was flanked by other entrepreneurs, including Eddie Kim of Gusto, Lee Mayer of Havenly and Chris Terrill of HomeAdvisor.

During his keynote at the breakfast Wood opined on his career(s) moving from football to athletic undergarments to beef jerky. Regarding Under Armor, he said: "We went from just a product to brand almost overnight." To get there, however, took a lot of work, a lot of face time and a lot of travel, he said. "We took it to a broader audience, team sports is what we knew and we saw the benefit of what these types of fabrics and this fit could make for sports."

The NCAA, the NFL and Major League Baseball "were our main targets. We went after those guys with great intensity," Wood said. "You've got to be creative, you've got to be different and you need to figure out a way to differentiate yourself and your strategy from larger competitors."

Following the breakfast, the Downtown Denver Partnership released the Downtown Denver Startup Report, which found, among other things, that in the last year alone 56 startups in Denver have raised more than $420 million in venture capital in the last year. 

"The growth of tech startups is strong, both in terms of number of new businesses and job creation," said Tami Door, Downtown Denver Partnership CEO. With events like startup week and support and services including The Commons of Champa, the organization is helping startups as they strive to become the next Under Armor. "We are focused on providing access to free resources and education to further establish Downtown Denver as the leading place for businesses to succeed."

The report looks at how startups are changing the employment sector in Denver. The city now has 664 startups, with 165 launching in 2015 alone. Startup growth is strongest in the technology sector, as startups represent 10 percent of all companies downtown and employ 4,508 people.

People can register online to attend more than 250 events or go to Basecamp hosted by Chase at 1515 Arapahoe St.

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

CU Denver launches 15th annual THE CLIMB business plan competition

THE CLIMB, a competition to develop a business plan through the University of Colorado Denver's Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship, is set to begin its 15th year with a new, non-collegiate competition, expanded footprint and a citizen vote. The competition, which starts Sept. 8, will culminate in an award event on Nov. 10.

The goal of the competition is to help entrepreneurs transform concepts into viable businesses through mentorship opportunities. Previously, the competition was only available to college students but now includes a non-collegiate track for Colorado-based startups. In addition the competition is now open to collegiate applicants from Arizona as well as students from Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Montana. 

Since the competition began in 2001, it's awarded $1 million and shared more than 500 mentor hours. Some of the previous winners of THE CLIMB include Rosenberg's Bagels, AppIt Venturesbeautifuli.com and Living Ink Technologies, says Sarah Engel, assistant director of the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship. "Rosenberg's Bagels is definitely recognizable in Denver," Engel says. 

"With thousands of business plan competitions available in the U.S. alone, these events are more than just a means to fund a big idea," says Madhavan Parthasarathy, director of the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship and an associate professor at CU Denver. "We redesigned our competition to deliver a comprehensive, real-world business and learning experience. The caliber of entrepreneurial experts, organizations and faculty that teams have access to in this competition is truly priceless. The financial payout is simply a bonus." 

Judges, including namesake Jake Jabs, will send 10 collegiate teams to the semi-finals. During the Collegiate & Community Pitch Night on Oct. 13 the audience will have the opportunity to invest "CLIMB cash" to advance one more collegiate team and three community startup businesses to the finals event in November. "As a public university with strong ties to our community, we wanted to give people an opportunity to engage in the competition and cast their vote for who they think would keep Colorado's entrepreneurial spirit moving forward," Parthasarathy says.

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

Denver Startup Week will feature "Silicon Valley" show members, and first pitch challenge

With hundreds of events lined up and more than 10,000 expected attendees, Denver Startup Week 2016 has something for every entrepreneur, including a job fair, the Denver Startup Week Pitch Challenge and a discussion with Silicon Valley regular Suzanne Cryer and producer and writer Adam Countee who will take at a panel called The Intersection of TV and Tech Startups.

This year's events kick off with a Sept. 12 breakfast keynoted by Ryan Wood, a former fullback for the Dallas Cowboys and co-founder of billion-dollar Under Armour. The day will end with a party at Denver Union Station expected to draw 1,500 people or more. 

Beyond being just for entrepreneurs, this year's startup week will feature a startup job fair on Wednesday at the Buell Theatre. Organizers say that last year more than 40 companies were at the job fair seeking candidates and this year they expect even more companies to attend. 

However, what's likely one of the more anticipated events is The Intersection of TV and Tech Startups, a discussion with Countee and Cryer of HBO startup spoof Silicon Valley, hosted by Colorado-based satellite TV provider DISH. They will talk about the show's comedy and the culture of tech startups and participate in a Q&A. 

The week will end Thursday night at Galvanize Platte with the finals of the first Denver Startup Week Pitch Challenge.

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

Denver Startup Week Challenge will offer awards to most innovative startups

It's almost time for Denver Startup Week, and already things are heating up. Event organizers and the University of Denver's Project X-ite recently announced the Denver Startup Week Challenge, asking the most innovative companies in Denver to give their best pitched to a panel of judges. The best pitch will win awards, which have not yet been named.

Like Denver Startup Week, the challenge will be divided into four tracks, which will be determined based on the submissions received. Up to eight semifinalists will be chosen by entrepreneurs and industry professionals who will judge submissions related to their field.

Interested companies can submit their proposals through Aug. 29. Semifinalists will be notified of the their status around Sept. 1. On Sept. 13 and Sept. 14, the entrants will compete. The top two finalists from each track will present their pitch in front of the startup community on Sept. 15 at Galvanize on Platte.

The organizers said that all Denver-area based startup with less than $5 million in outside investment are eligible to participate. They must also be less than three years old.

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


Mile High WorkShop expands, offers local makers space

Mile High WorkShop, an innovative job training program that helps disadvantaged people learn employable skills, is expanding. The workshop, which launched in 2014, is expanding into a 13,000-square-foot space where other businesses will have an opportunity to rent space.

"A larger space will allow us to grow our business and increase our ability to employ and train members of our community who are rebuilding from prison, addictions and homelessness," says Mile High WorkShop Director Andy Magel. "The additional square footage provides room to partner with innovative businesses in town while furthering our job-creation mission."

Magel says Mile High Workshop will share the new location with Bud's Warehouse. Local businesses and makers can rent the space on a sliding scale. If the business uses Mile High WorkShop's employees and their services, which include woodworking, laser engraving, packaging and assembly services, they can get lower rent.

The workshop already has more than 20 partners, including furniture making for Relevant ReUse and Old Wood Soul. It also manufactures pillows for V&R Naturals and makes camera accessories for Artisan Obscura, among others.

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

Decibel Blue launches Decibel Green, a cannabis-focused marketing agency

Decibel Blue, a decade-old national digital marketing and public relations firm with offices in Denver and Phoenix, has launched a new sister agency, Decibel Green. The new agency will focus on cannabis and sustainability.

"Decibel Blue has been servicing cannabis clients for three years. It's the right time to give them more focus," says Decibel Blue Founder David Eichler. He explains that creating the sister agency will better position both companies to best serve their customers.

"My passion for cannabis is not only rooted in 30 years of enjoying it," Eichler says. "I have a chronically painful neck and my wife had cancer, thankfully a long time ago. I know first hand how powerful a medicine it can be. I am fortunate to have partners and a team who delivers incredible value to Decibel Blue's real estate, retail, healthcare and restaurant clients in both Denver and Phoenix. This deep bench allows me to focus on helping Decibel Green's clients achieve their goals."

The company has created local and national campaigns for the cannabis industry, already. In Washington, D.C., it's working with clients including the Marijuana Policy Project and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Locally, it has represented Puff, Pass & Paint and Your Green Contractor.

According to Eichler the company can advertise nationally, even though cannabis isn't legal across all the states. "Many dispensaries and content providers like Leafly do screen users by age when visiting their website. It's essential the industry is diligent and vigilant in making sure that cannabis is only being marketing legally, to adults," he says.

Decibel Green isn't the only cannabis-focused marketing agency in the U.S., according to Eichler. "There's plenty of business for everybody. What's important is that we foster a sense of community across every facet of this industry, including creative agencies."

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


Denver Startup Week seeks proposals for 2016 event

Calling all entrepreneurs! The nation's largest free entrepreneurial event, Denver Startup Week, is seeking your proposals for its fifth annual event. The event, which takes over the heart of Denver's innovation and business incubation centers like The Commons on Champa and Galvanize, is being held Sept. 12-16, 2016.

Now is your chance to influence what will be discussed at this year's event by submitting a session proposal, but hurry up: Organizers are accepting submissions through June 15.

The event, which began in 2012 has quickly ballooned. Last year 10,875 people registered to attend 235 sessions, explains event coordinator Brea Olson of the Downtown Denver Partnership. "We are expecting to exceed that number this year," she adds.

"We continue to look for quality and diverse sessions across all of our tracks: Founder, Growth, Designer, Developer, Maker, and Product," Olson says. "We’re also looking for sessions that appeal to a range of industries and at various stages of business."

Denver Startup Week has received more than 200 proposals for sessions for the 2016 event. "Last year, we had more than 520 total submissions and we are looking to meet or exceed that number again this year," Olson asserts.

"We will open up voting to finalize the program in the coming weeks," Olson says, explaining the next steps. People can register to attend the free events starting in August.

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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