My Experience As A Denver Startup Week Ambassador
DSW Ambassador: Jessica Valenzuela
Last year from September 24–28, Ambassadors from different cities were preparing for Denver Startup Week (DSW), a five-day entrepreneurial event in Denver, Colorado. Over 16,000 participants attended more than 400 sessions all over the city.
As an Ambassador, our main goals were to experience Denver Startup Week, get to know the startup community, and explore the city. There are no requirements to be an Ambassador besides your presence and commitment to participate. DSW was my first visit to the Mile High City. As an avid snowboarder, I have spent many winters in the Colorado Rockies. I love the gorgeous and majestic snow covered mountains.
A Celebration of The Entrepreneurial Community
DSW is a celebration of the entrepreneurial community in Denver, Colorado and every city in the world. It is an event that marks the journey of entrepreneurs. Most of the Ambassadors I met and mingled with were entrepreneurs, with the exception of a few VCs, aspiring VCs, media and larger corporations.
DSW also showcases Denver’s growing tech scene. The organization is eager to attract established businesses to the city and encourage a talented workforce to plant roots in Colorado. A number of our host companies recently raised their Series A or B funding and are growing rapidly.
During the Ambassador Program, we had the opportunity to hear from a number of companies in Denver:
- Evolve positions itself as a two-sided vacation rental marketplace, like Airbnb. The difference is that Evolve offers an end-to-end solution for the homeowners. Unlike Airbnb, which is a technology company, Evolve has a true real-estate angle that offers property management services. On the other hand, Evolve accepts bookings directly from consumers like you and me. In August 2018, the company raised $80M in funding.
- Guild Education is an education platform redefining the future of work and adult education. It is a female-led company with CEO and founder Rachel Carlson at the helm. I was super impressed by Rachel’s presentation to the DSW Ambassador group — she walked us through how Guild found their North Star as an organization, their growth and results by sharing student and customer stories. At the core, Guild is helping corporations make use of education benefits to a larger group of their employees. The company is growing fast. They recently raised $40M from Silicon Valley venture firms Felicis Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, Cowboy Ventures, and Silicon Valley Bank to name a few. I personally enjoyed this session. Guild Education found a gap that is underserved — one that corporations are willing and able to fund and prioritize.
- Polsinelli is Denver’s premier law firm. We were treated to an extraordinary tour of their new office and an elegant sit-down dinner. It was spectacular!
- Gusto and Ibotta, thank you! I didn’t make it to their office events, so I’d be remiss in sharing any of my personal views about the organization. I do LOVE the Gusto socks. I wear them around our home office whenever possible!
The Great Places in Denver
Walking is the best way to get to know a city. A place is livable for me when I can walk to different neighborhoods to explore and find great good places to hang out with the locals or fellow travelers. It’s one of the reasons why New York City, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, and Amsterdam are places that capture my heart and imagination. Denver has a score of 61 for walking and a score of 71 for biking, according to WalkScore. The city has a current population of 600,158. As the city expands and grows, I hope there will be a big focus on reducing the driving footprint in certain zones around the city.
I love the mountains as much as I enjoy cities. Denver is unique in that it is in close proximity to Boulder, Aspen, Breckenridge, and Vail. There is also a lot happening in different parts of the city of Denver. You can feel this excitement from the locals and transplants when they talk about the city. Given their focus on growing Denver’s technology scene, they welcome folks from Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, and all the regional tech places with an open heart and open arms.
- Rooftop Bar Friends — On our last night, Elnaz Sarraf, fellow Ambassador, and I ventured to the rooftop of the AC Marriott Downtown. It was packed! Here we met our new friend, Dave Mayer, an entrepreneur himself, the CEO of Technical Integrity and Massive Impact. He is also the Founder of Aspen Entrepreneurs. Coincidentally, Dave has hosted the DSW Ambassadors before. What a cool way to break the ice! We talked about many things Denver and tech. There is an inspiring excitement in his voice when he says, “It is a great time to be in Denver. There is undeniable energy around technology and food.”
- The Breweries — My personal city tour would not be complete without visiting a craft beer brewery. I used Google Maps to find “Belgian craft beer,” “German craft beer” and “European craft beer” in specific neighborhoods. You know a good Belgian or German craft brewery by its name and what is on their tap menu. Luckily for me, I found two great places that met my criteria — 100% Belgian and German / European craft brewers: Bruz Beers and Bierstadt Lager. Both places were huge and well-equipped— great seating, games, a big bar area, and friendly and helpful staff. I loved the triple Bruz Beers and Oktoberfest Marzen at Bierstadt — I even brought back a few pints on my flight back home!
- The Coffee Scene — Just like beer, getting to know Denver is incomplete without the mention of coffee and coffee shops. I wish I had more time to frolic. Randy Thelen, Vice President of the Downtown Denver Partnership was immediate to point out Ink Coffee, a fast growing Third Wave coffee shop brand deeply influenced by Italy’s finest coffee, Illy, as well as Modern Market, a fast-casual brand focused on healthy meals. On my own, I ventured to Denver Milk Market and Coffee Market Brewing (in Boulder). Next Door Eatery by Kimball Musk was on my list, but alas time flew by too fast!
With a big focus on technology, local companies lead the charge in shaping Denver’s beer, coffee, and food scene. It is easy to visualize growing GoGoGuest’s footprint in Denver. A huge thanks to Emily Tucker, Conor Swanson, Randy Thelen, and Dave Mayer for making our visit enjoyable and meaningful. Thank you, Denver Startup Week!