Creativity and hungry ambition run through the veins of Colorado’s capital city. Nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, it’s easy to get lost daydreaming while gazing westward out the window of any downtown Denver high-rise, filled with a sense of purpose and inspiration. But our geography isn’t the only thing separating The Mile High City – as we proudly tout from 5,280 feet above sea level – from other emerging startup hubs.
Named as the most active city for startups between the coasts by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2016, strong networks, stretching across business, philanthropy, politics and academia are why Denver has matured and cultivated fertile grounds for young companies to grow.
What began with a group of committed leaders driving iconic local industries -- from energy to telecommunications to aerospace -- has grown into a veritable mecca for burgeoning startups. Tightly bonded networks transcend superficial business card swap meets at happy hour. Creating a network, and the ability to activate it takes time and intention. Ask any collection of Colorado founders and small business supporters and you will detect a thread of state pride and a strong identity. That understanding of mutual success, or destruction, is rooted deep in our ethos. A sense of community, of connection and faith in others is what has helped Denver rise.
Here’s how to tap into the local magic:
1. Seek mentors
The most important professional contact you can make is a strong mentor. Mentors serve as an individual’s board of directors, providing guidance through challenges and offering wisdom from the long road. Effective mentors offer advice, while great mentors listen and teach us to trust our instincts and find the path that best fits.
Developing such supportive relationships takes time. It's not one and done, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Building a cadre of people willing to shape your success is challenging but worthwhile and is critical to understanding any business landscape. Oh, and in case this wasn’t implied, when mentors offer wisdom … listen!
2. Discover community
Denver Startup Week began with a few friends chatting over beers about how to leverage and celebrate the city's budding startup scene. Now, startup centric festivities happen all over the world. Out of those events, new ideas, connections and concepts for companies materialize every year. At the least, such gatherings consistently lead to new friendships. Given the opportunity, likeminded folks will gravitate toward each other and seek opportunities to connect. At the outset, major conferences can appear intimidating and chaotic but building a few close relationships can prove defining and a future source of productivity and inspiration.
3. Create value
Care about a cause? Get involved. Denver houses a community that judges success not by a title or earning potential, but by what you give back. There is never an easy time to take up a cause, and always plenty of reasonable excuses. Work, friends, family and kids will always be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean that right now isn’t the perfect time to take up a cause that you care about. Apply yourself, add value to a noble effort and you will find good people looking to have a positive impact. It adds to the richness of your life, in the short term and long haul.
4. Give freely
This is perhaps the most important lesson of all. Your time is valuable but so is everyone else’s. Those people who helped you? The mentors who invested their time? When it comes to building your own legacy, think long and hard about the impact you are having on the community. Building relationships takes time, and creating friendships with people at every stage of your career is the most valuable thing you will ever carry in life. Giving your time will consistently produce intangible rewards.