Spotlight on the Founder Track
In case you missed our big announcement last week, registration is now open for Denver Startup Week 2017, with a huge schedule of events across six tracks of programming. To help you make sense of it all, we’re taking a deep dive into each track with the chairs who put it together, explore the themes and topics they’re focusing on this year, and hear what they’re most excited for.
We’re going to kick things off with the Founder Track and co-chairs Alec Brewster and Nate Greenlee.
Alec is a longtime member of Denver’s entrepreneurial community, with a background in both managing and marketing products for early stage companies. He has worked extensively with telco ERP systems, hospitality platforms, and occasionally even nonprofits like TrashyHood.org. Alec is also one of the organizers of Denver Founders Network, a monthly showcase for founder stories and one of the longest-running support groups for entrepreneurs in Denver.
Nate is a Colorado native and a veteran of startups in a wide variety of fields — from software to space exploration. His current project is in the branding and marketing space, focusing on operations and business development for digital agency Team & Culture.
How did you both get involved in DSW?
Alec: Years ago I was involved in the first DSW running an event called “Plug-in Impact”. It was a panel on cleantech startups, and we managed to get 600+ people at the event. That was enough to get me hooked! I got involved with Denver Founders Network and Josh Churlik (the previous Founder and Growth Tracks chair), and when Josh decided to step away to focus on his own company (Well Data Labs) he pulled me in. I really enjoy helping the community prosper and building that “bigger tent” for the ecosystem as a whole.
Nate: I got involved via Josh as well — we knew each other from many Denver Founders Network meetups over the years. I remember back in the early days when DFN met at the old Uncubed space in RiNo, and would have a legend like Perry Evans or Tom Higley serving up this incredible insight about what it took to build a successful company, and there would be like 3 people in the audience. It’s amazing to see how much the community and the whole startup ecosystem in Denver has grown since those days. I love working on DSW because it’s a great opportunity to build Denver’s identity as a center for entrepreneurship and add on to the support network for the next generation of entrepreneurs, the same way that people like Perry and Tom did for me.
Does the Founder Track have a theme or particular area of focus this year?
The focus for the Founder Track every year is actually fairly narrow — even though there are a lot of topics that could fall under that umbrella, we really want to ensure that we’re covering the fundamentals of business formation, development, and growth. We assemble the program like the curriculum for a survey course, providing enough to get people off the ground from the perspective of legal, HR, accounting/finance, culture, physical space, fundraising, customer development, etc. We do try to make sure that the specifics within those areas are relevant to current trends and best practices, but those don’t tend to shift dramatically from year to year. What we are doing differently this year is changing up the way that we present that curriculum — with more of an emphasis on storytelling and interactive session formats to both leverage the depth of experience in the local community and convey these critical subjects to a broader audience in a more impactful way.
In the submissions, we saw lots of efforts to collaborate in order to cover areas in greater depth and bring more perspectives to bear, which dovetails nicely with the emphasis on storytelling. We’ve definitely begun to lean more heavily on domain experts to inform the curation process in areas where we need more depth and insight.
While we don’t have a theme per se, there are a few things that stood out as particularly topical this year. The overwhelming acceptance of Lean principles has made that a really critical part of that early-stage curriculum. Cofounder dynamics is an area that’s hugely important and something that’s been playing out a lot more recently (and sometimes publicly) as companies mature. We’ve also heard multiple anecdotes about local companies adopting Traction/EOS practices with great success, so we’re making sure to cover that as well.
What are the “can’t-miss” sessions in your track?
“Self-Management, Entrepreneurship, and the Future Of Work” (Tuesday 9/26 at 12pm) — A challenge many entrepreneurs struggle with is building organizational structures that allow them to “work on” their business (and scale it) rather than just “working in it”. Josh Allan Dykstra has put out a lot of interesting work on ways to address that issue and we’re excited to see him present it.
“Inside the Mind of a VC” (Tuesday 9/26 at 12pm) — Having sufficient capital is front-of-mind for every founder, but the process of raising it can be opaque and fraught, particularly if you’re going through it for the first time. David Gold of Access Venture Partners is a pillar of the community, and hearing him “flip the script” and explain the process from the other side of the table will no doubt be very illuminating for anyone contemplating a capital raise.
We have a few sessions that have been in the schedule for several years now that are always a lot of fun. “Startup Cribs” (Wednesday 9/27 at 12pm) is an exploration of physical space, design and culture, and the ways in which they’re inextricably linked. “Founder F*ck Ups” (Time & Date TBD) is full of frank and funny anecdotes recounting the ways entrepreneurship can go sideways, and that fatal mistakes may not be as fatal as you think. “Recruiting at All Ages and Stages for Technical Talent” (Wednesday 9/27 at 10am) is an absolute must for anyone looking to start a software-based business. And of course, we’re very excited for the return of “Going up? Practice your elevator pitch inside of an actual elevator” (Thursday 9/28 at 2pm).
There are also some curated sessions that we’re still working on finalizing, and we’re definitely very excited for those. Stay tuned for those to be added to the schedule over the next few weeks!
Did you have any particularly interesting stories that came out of the submission/selection process this year?
We have Karsh\Hagan participating in Denver Startup Week this year for the first time — they’re a Denver legend, an agency that has survived for 40 years while maintaining a scrappy startup vibe. Very excited to have them share some of the wisdom they’ve gained from those 40 years.
One story that came up time and time again is the power of strong, engaged mentorship, particularly at an early stage. We’re blessed to have a lot of really great mentors in the Denver community, and we’re working on an event (tentatively titled “Show and Tell: Mensch Influencers”, it’ll be on the schedule shortly) to recognize those who are having an outsized impact and hopefully inspire a new generation of mentors to start giving back.
What advice would you give someone who is attending DSW for the first time?
Alec: Don’t try to go to everything. Have a goal in mind and focus on the sessions that you think will have the most impact on achieving that goal. Make friends! Find someone to help out.
Nate: Go to the opening party! Make sure to spend some time at Basecamp to feel the energy of the week. Chase the content that sounds interesting to you but don’t be passive — the sessions are a great way to make connections and meet new people. That’s what’s going to really last.
Any parting wisdom for someone attending Founder Track sessions?
Founding a company is hard work but you don’t have to do it in a vacuum. Our goal is to provide you a solid starting point and a set of skills to kickstart your own startup journey and plug you into the wealth of other resources available at Denver Startup Week, The Commons on Champa, and beyond.