Spotlight on the Maker Track

Registration is now open for the sixth-annual Denver Startup Week, taking place September 25–29. With a huge schedule of events across six tracks of programming, putting together your own schedule can be daunting! To help break it all down, each week we’ll be taking a deep dive into one track with the chairs who put it together, exploring the themes and topics they’re focused on this year, and hear what events they’re most excited to see.

This week we’re delving into the Maker Track with co-chairs Callie Wentling and Lauren Kloock.

A Maker Track panel at Battery 621

Lauren works on the marketing and communications team at Colorado Lending Source — a non-profit small business lender that supports entrepreneurs in a variety of ways throughout the community. Something that Lauren is especially passionate about is the organization’s entrepreneur development program called Ice House, where she has the opportunity to witness and assist in the growth of budding entrepreneurs across many different industries. She also enjoys telling the story of the businesses that Colorado Lending Source has touched.

Callie is an electrical engineer by background, with an entrepreneurial turn doing business development and project management for a contract design company. She brings her experience in the physical product development and manufacturing processes to the Maker track, and is especially interested in the emerging field of Smart Cities.

First things first — how did you both get involved in DSW?

Callie: I first heard about the event back in the early days when the Manufacturing Track was added [ed: back in 2013, the second year of the event, the Manufacturing Track replaced Social Entrepreneurship as the fourth programming track, and the following year, the name was changed from Manufacturing to Maker]. I was intrigued by the combination of manufacturing and entrepreneurial programming, and kept haranguing Chuck Sullivan [Maker Track co-chair] with ideas for more topics to explore and areas where I thought the program could be expanded to provide greater value to professionals working on physical product. Eventually Chuck got tired of hearing me talk about my ideas and brought me on to help assemble the track itself!

Lauren: This is my third year with Denver Startup Week, all with the Maker Track committee. I got involved largely via my role at Colorado Lending Source, where I was approached by Chuck to see how our organization could get involved. Colorado Lending Source is on an endless mission to help entrepreneurs, and it just seemed to make sense to participate, especially since we work a lot with manufacturers and makers. The community ethos of the event is right in line with our values, and personally, it’s an incredibly rewarding event to be a part of.

Do you have a theme or particular area of focus for the Maker Track this year?

We make a good team because our interests vary — [Callie] is more deeply involved in the tech, IoT, and product development side of the ecosystem, and [Lauren] is plugged into the manufacturing scene, knows the interesting local makers across a wide variety of industries, and is very familiar with the financial side of things. While we don’t necessarily have a specific theme this year, we always strive to ensure that we’re reflecting the flavor of the community while keeping our slate of sessions relevant to broader trends in the field. Interest in IoT applications has been growing dramatically the last few years, and the ins and outs of physical product manufacturing for connected electronics is commanding a larger portion of our track programming this year. IoT has all of the challenges of both hardware and software, and we’re trying to address that by creating a curriculum around the physical engineering/manufacturing aspects that layers in the subtleties of software development as they apply.

Of the six programming tracks during the week, Maker is the smallest in terms of number of sessions, but we believe this is our year to make a big splash. While people tend to assume that the week is just about tech, one of the unique things about Denver is that there are so many other interesting entrepreneurial things going on across a wide variety of industries — outdoor rec, food & beverage, large-scale manufacturing, electronics, and more. We want to make sure people are aware of the breadth of that activity and help bring to life what we stand for as a community!

What are the “can’t-miss” sessions in the Maker Track?

We have a really big new event this year that we’re calling “IRL: A Physical Product Showcase” (Tuesday 9/26, 2:00pm — 5:00pm). The idea is to give attendees the opportunity to interact with all of the physical products that local companies are producing, and give those companies the ability to really show off the work they’re doing. It’s a unique aspect of this track in that we actually have something tangible to show off, and we wanted to figure out a way to showcase that for maximum effect. The lineup includes big and small companies representing a lot of different categories of physical products.

In keeping with good lean principles, we’re calling this our “proof of concept” event. We’re hoping to build a foundation that we can expand on for future years. Eventually we want to incorporate the other pieces of the product development chain that are upstream from the finished product and showcase those as well. For this first year though, we want to get people excited about what’s going on in Denver now and see the possibilities for what they can aspire to build themselves.

There are still a few slots available for product companies to exhibit in the showcase — if you’re interested you can apply here. Act fast though — they’re going quickly!

Winter is Coming: Preparing Early for risks and coming out on top” (Tuesday 9/26 at 10:00am, Jake Jabs Center) — Rosenberg’s Bagels is a great local success story in the food and beverage space, and it’s particularly inspiring in light of the major ordeal they went through last year when a fire destroyed their space and they had to rebuild from scratch. We’re excited to hear founder Josh Pollack talk about that experience and how he worked through a situation that could easily have been fatal for his company.

Selecting the best hardware platform: How to evaluate and get started with advanced embedded systems.” (Wednesday 9/27 at 12:00pm) — This session is a deep-dive into the practical aspects of building embedded systems and the pros and cons of different platforms that a company can choose to build their device on. Nailing this decision is critical for early-stage IoT companies, and the panelists have a lot of experience with different hardware platforms so they’ll be able to offer a great deal of insight. On top of that, it’s a hands-on workshop that will leave you with your own working board and development setup to take home and build on.

MakeOne: Launching a community maker space in downtown Denver” (Friday 9/29 at 10:00am) — MakeOne is an initiative to build a community-oriented maker space in the heart of downtown, and they’re going about it by pulling together a diverse set of stakeholders who are united by a drive to see Denver continue to be a hotbed of innovation for physical product. This session is an open “town hall”-style forum to engage the broader community on how they would like to see the space evolve. It’s guaranteed to be a lively discussion, and a great way to get involved in building out the maker community here in Denver.

1 Million Cups” (Wednesday 9/27 at 8:00am) — 1 Million Cups is a nationwide program developed by the Kauffman Foundation to engage and connect entrepreneurs, and the Denver chapter has been going strong for four years now. For Denver Startup Week we’re hosting a special edition focusing on three Maker companies. Each company will have six minutes to present, followed by 20 minutes of Q&A from the audience. It’s a great interactive event, and the Q&A format makes the content highly approachable even if you’re new to physical product development.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: Tips for Turning Passion into Production” (Wednesday 9/27 at 4:00pm) — Most startups begin as an idea being worked on in a garage — whether metaphorically or literally — but making the jump from a passion project or side hustle can be a huge challenge, especially when you have the complexities of physical manufacturing or production to manage. This panel is an opportunity to learn from experienced entrepreneurs who have navigated that transition learn from their successes and failures. It should lead to some great discussion and insights!

‘Making it’ in Colorado” (Wednesday 9/27 at 2:00pm) — Colorado has a number of highly successful local makers who have been able to take their products to market nationally while staying true to their locally-produced craft roots. This panel will feature some of our best-known local success stories exploring the challenges associated with growing rapidly while retaining a strong local commitment, and is sure to surface some great advice for anyone looking to balance those competing concerns in their own venture.

One more session that we’re extremely excited for is a collaboration with Blake Adams, who runs the Denver Flea. That event is another great local success story, and it’s been instrumental in providing visibility for the craft and maker community to a much broader audience for the last several years. The logistics for this one are almost finalized, and it will be hitting the schedule very shortly.

What advice would you each give someone who is attending DSW for the first time?

Callie: The days can be exhausting when you’re in sessions all day and at social events all evening. Pace yourself and don’t burn out too quickly — there are great events happening all the way through Friday. It helps to do your homework and research the sessions that you absolutely don’t want to miss in advance. Be sure to pick sessions based on speakers and content — not just on the title.

Lauren: Be flexible with your schedule. It’s worth signing up for events early but check in as the week gets closer because schedules can change. It also pays to have backups events, as popular events will fill up at the door. If there’s a session you really can’t miss, clear your schedule to get there early so you’re guaranteed a spot! . And as an avid bike commuter, I’d encourage you to definitely ride during DSW because it’s just the easiest way to get around downtown!

Colorado Lending Source is back sponsoring the Maker Track for a second year in a row. What is it like seeing the event from both a sponsor and organizer perspective?

Lauren: Yes! Colorado Lending Source is excited to be a part of Denver’s entrepreneurial community helping to fuel the maker, manufacturer, and physical product ecosystem here. Denver Startup Week is a resource that has helped so many small businesses get off the ground, so it’s important to us that it continues to thrive and to help support and build out new generations of entrepreneurs. Sometimes I get asked why a lender would sponsor Denver Startup Week. First, we offer financing to businesses that have been rejected by a bank, so we aren’t your typical lender. Second, there’s sometimes a fear around debt financing that can really turn people off. It can be a critical tool for helping businesses get off the ground, but it’s often overlooked as a viable option either when starting up or growing.

Is there anything else that you really want Denver Startup Week attendees to know about the Maker Track?

More than anything, we want people to know that Maker is not just for craft focused businesses and we’re relevant outside of just tech too — incorporating industries as diverse as manufacturing, outdoors, food and beverage, craft, and electronics — and that reflects a broad range of interests that are a big part of what makes Denver unique. Finally, we want to convey that while getting started in physical product can be intimidating, there are a ton of great resources and a very strong community that you can and should leverage to help get you off the ground!