5 Reasons Why You Should Absolutely Apply for the Denver Startup Week Ambassador Program
DSW Ambassador: Casey Shultz
In July of 2018 I happened to be checking in on LEAP, a women-in-technology social group, when I saw a post with the headline, “All expenses paid trip to Denver to meet the startup community: Denver Startup Week Ambassador Program.” Intrigued, I clicked the link, which took me to a Google form with a very basic application process that included my name, social media accounts, and why I wanted to join the Ambassador Program at Denver Startup Week. As a person who is very involved in the Silicon Valley startup community and a huge fan of Denver, I immediately applied.
I was a bit surprised (and very excited) when, a few weeks later, I received an email saying that I had been selected to join the program. Who? Moi? Don’t mind if I do!
What followed was several weeks of emails from Emily Tucker from the Downtown Denver Partnership that culminated in three glorious days of traveling around Downtown Denver meeting with local startups and entrepreneurs.
What is the Denver Startup Week Ambassador Program?
In 2011, the Downtown Denver Partnership and local business leaders launched Denver Startup Week as a way to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit of Denver. The event brings together startup industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and local businesses with a jam-packed week of speakers, panels, networking, and social events. In 2017 Conor Swanson, a volunteer with Denver Startup Week and local business owner created the Ambassador Program to attract startup leaders to visit the event from around the United States.
“I just put up an application and once I chose who was coming I went out and met with local business leaders to fund it,” Swanson said during the closing remarks of the Ambassador 2018 cohort.
The Ambassador Program aims to attract quality talent, investment, companies, and media coverage to Denver.
There are way more than 5 good reasons as to why you should apply to attend the Denver Startup Week Ambassador Program, but, for the sake of brevity, I pared it down to 5.
1. The breadth and quality of your fellow ambassadors will amaze you.
As part of the 2018 cohort, I spent three days with some really inspiring people. The program organizers make a point to bring diverse backgrounds and roles to the event so I was surrounded by a mixture of founders, leaders, venture capitalists, and media experts. They also did a great job of inviting a diverse group of people. Of the 50 Ambassadors, about 50% were women and 60% were people of color.
It was actually hard to get to know all 50 of my fellow Ambassadors, but I quickly became friends with a group of 15 people that consisted of startup founders, designers, and product managers. In between visits to host companies, we would discuss the projects that we’re working on. My favorite parts of these conversations were sharing the biggest challenges we were currently facing and hearing how other people had resolved similar issues.
2. It’s an all-expenses-paid trip to Denver.
Southwest Airlines donated round trip plane tickets for the Ambassadors and local businesses covered the cost of the hotel rooms at the AC Marriott, which is conveniently located downtown in the epicenter of where all the Denver Startup Week events take place. Lunches and dinners were provided each day and the Ambassadors even received $80 in Lyft credits for rides to and from Denver International Airport. We also received guidebooks that had tons of free drink coupons that could be used at events and local bars. The majority of Denver Startup Week events take place within walking distance so it’s easy to get to any event you want. Talk about traveling in style!
3. Intimate Meetings with Host Companies
Host companies play an integral role in the Ambassador Program. They donate money to help pay for the costs of the program and each company hosts a three-hour information session with the Ambassadors at their Denver offices. The 2018 host companies included Evolve Vacation Rental Network, Guild Education, Gusto, and Ibotta. The companies covered a range of industries from vacation rental management, education as a benefit, payroll and benefits, and cash rewards on purchases respectively. What they all have in common is that they have headquarters in Denver and they are hiring like crazy.
What surprised me the most about each of our visits to the host companies was how earnest and honest they were about sharing their past challenges, how they overcame them, and what current challenges they are working on. Ibotta has their 2018 company goals painted on the wall of their office — there are only two. There was a lot of discussion about the hard lessons learned from past years as annual goals started at five, then down to three, and now down to two, because to have too many goals means that the company is not focused enough on what really matters. They have a monitor in the lobby of the office that regularly updates the progress towards those goals to keep everybody in the company aligned.
“Because to have too many goals means that the company is not focused enough on what really matters.”
Gusto cofounders Eddie Kim and Josh Reeves shared the humorous origin story of how Eddie moved into the walk-in closet of Josh’s roommate in Palo Alto so that they could work together nonstop to get Gusto off the ground.
“The funny thing was that the roommate was still using the closet at the time so Eddie was sleeping with a lot of shoes,” Josh joked.
They were also very candid about their commitment to diversity and what it’s taken to increase female representation on their engineering team from 8% to 27% with a goal of 50%.
“The most important thing was that we set goals about where we want to be and wrote a blog post,” said Eddie when he was emphasizing the importance of publicizing goals and holding themselves accountable.
It was inspiring to connect with the leadership teams of these fast-growing companies that have made Denver their homes.
4. Denverites are genuinely excited to have you.
When walking around Denver, the excitement was palpable. Whether it is was the flutter of activity at the Chase Basecamp or listening to Vince Kadlubek announce Meow Wolf coming to Denver at the Kickoff Breakfast, it was clear that the residents of Denver love the innovation and creativity the startup community is attracting to the city. When walking around events with my Ambassador badge, local attendees often stopped to ask me where I was from and what brought me to Denver Startup Week. In these conversations, I was able to learn about the diverse types of people who have made Denver their home. While there are many people who grew up in Colorado and decided to stay or return after college, there are a ton of transplants who have been lured by its lucrative job market and high quality of life.
5. It’s a great way to get to know the city if you’re interested in moving to Denver.
Denver is an amazing city. With its easy access to the outdoors as well as the urban appeal of four professional sports teams and endless music venues, Denver has something for everybody.
The city is forward-thinking in its investment in public transportation and support of the startup community and every weekend seems to boast some kind of beer, music, or food festival.
Companies are growing more quickly than they can attract talent, so employment opportunities are unprecedented. While I was in town I took advantage of the evenings to check out good restaurants, bars, and musical acts. This was often in the company of my fellow Ambassadors who were hilarious and we got up to a fair amount of mischief, including a group ride on a Bird scooter. Warning: when cramming two adults on an electric scooter to travel between late night Startup Week events, uncontrollable laughter may ensue.