The Front Range of Sustainability

Note: This piece builds on an earlier post highlighting Denver, Colorado’s opportunity to globally lead innovative and entrepreneurial communities to be more sustainable in our professional productions and personal practices.

House of Genius — Open House from Denver Startup Week 2014

Why the Front Range? — The Front Range is a diverse collection of Colorado communities each known for a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit, shared affinity for Mother Nature, and a strong belief in making quality of life a priority. Collectively, these communities have been attracting people and businesses from all over the world seeking a better quality of life for decades. Each community has its own focus which in combination offers a more holistic approach to business & innovation, wellness & recreation, and the politics of rural and urban populations. It’s all connected and so are we.

How Can We Do This? — Denver and the Front Range will share what has been learned over decades…that true sustainability is only achieved when profits, people, and planet all win. We will welcome the global community to witness how our diversity of industry and expertise in the Front Range makes Colorado a place where wicked problems are creatively solved. Inviting the global community to come and enjoy our clean air and water while witnessing how engaged and connected to the community our businesses have become, or how we develop infrastructure and real estate to promote flow and activity for the community, not just office and retail space. In Colorado we are trying to be holistically progressive, pushing forward yet always mindful of the impact to the quality of life we wish to protect.

What It Might Look Like — Over the last 30 years, Telluride, Colorado has become home to weekly festivals and signature events where artists in music, film, and more come to share their latest. Denver can be for this innovation, THE place to share and showcase the state of the arts, to help industry and community engage collaboratively to tackle unique or common challenges, all while exploring and enjoying the diversity of amazingness Colorado has to offer. Each week, Denver can be host to a different industry, bringing our own ecosystem to support and engage, connecting Denver to not just the world, but connecting the innovative ecosystems of the world to each other. This is why I believe Denver has more than just an opportunity to be the next global city, but to truly change the game.

In order to explain what or why I’m suggesting this we must revisit the Open House at Boulder Startup Week event this year. The event in Boulder was unremarkably familiar. A promising startup in need of growth capital trying to determine what obstacles might prevent a successful round of fundraising. This conversation could easily have been mistaken for having taken place 6 years ago. The hurdles and challenges that have faced innovators and entrepreneurs have barely changed in the last 5–10 years. Maybe longer. This is a problem not for just entrepreneurs, but for all of us.

Included in the keynote presentation delivered at the World Trade Day was a handful of exciting and in some cases alarming projections. Advancements we might expect to see in agriculture, automation, and other technology endeavors tickled the imagination. These were balanced by a few potential realities we may realize sometime between now and 2050 were also included. Automation replacing large portions of the skill-based US workforce, potentially as much as 40%. Essentially millions becoming unemployed without a clear path for transition. Superstorms and natural disasters with greater frequency and cost likely to challenge the insurance model entirely and all adding to a refugee count globally that could reach 300–500 million people displaced by 2030. Resource scarcities and population growth are also commonly considered to be just around the corner.

When we start connecting the dots it’s beginning to feel like we’re in a race against the clock. The probability for us to innovate and solve the problems here today and those on the horizon is going to be dependent not only by the runway made possible by talent and funding, but also by time constraints not related to funding or profitability but by getting to market in time, possibly with human suffering and lives in the balance.

By most measures the current timeline for startups to prove their mettle and viability is to survive beyond the first 5–7 years. From there, you’re a legit company with proven market resilience. If the global challenges and problems we believe are highly likely to show up by 2030, within the next decade or two, 5–7 years is too slow. Communities will need to make supporting our innovators and entrepreneurs a top priority. In fact, our livelihood and thus our quality of life may depend on it…as does that of our children and generations to follow.

If innovation and entrepreneurship are bound to the profitability requirements of capitalism, ROI for Angels and VCs, then it behooves us as communities to get a lot more involved in the innovative and entrepreneurial process. If we all want to participate in the upside, we have to get involved.

Without trying to be unappreciative, entrepreneurial events aren’t enough, at least in their reach today. Startup Weekends/Weeks once a year are not enough. We need to engage innovation like this year round. This is the bold, disruptive vision a city like Denver and the Front Range take on. If not us, then who? If not now, when?

Can we really wait for governments to come together based on what we’re witnessing today? What do we have to lose? More time. Our time, which is unarguably our most precious resource.