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As the coasts become less and less affordable and more and more people and companies get comfortable with working remotely, entrepreneurs are finding new places to start their businesses and make their ideas a reality.
Colorado has become a favorite among entrepreneurs because of its affordable cost of living, easy access to outdoor activities and the fact that it’s one of the most affordable states to form an LLC in the country.
To find out exactly why entrepreneurs are starting their businesses in Denver, Colorado, we interviewed three startup founders and got their insider knowledge.
Founder of Nami ML, Dan Burcaw isn’t just an entrepreneur — he’s a serial entrepreneur. Nami ML is his fourth entrepreneurial venture in tech. “My career has been made possible by several major technology waves: open source software, the smartphone, cloud computing and now machine learning,” he says. “I have been fortunate and have had a number of exits. I sold my last company to technology giant Oracle and the one before that to WPP, the world’s largest advertising company.”
What Burcaw appreciates about being an entrepreneur in Colorado is the resources available to him, his company and his team. “While Techstars is now a global startup ecosystem, it started right here in Boulder, Colorado,” he says. “Techstars is a great program with a great network of investors and mentors. Also, Denver Startup Week has been a great initiative to bring more attention to the local ecosystem from around the region. It is a great way to see how meaningful the startup scene in Colorado is becoming.”
Going into tech was a no-brainer for Burcaw. “I started learning computers before that was a thing and had my first computer consulting job before I could drive a car.” What led Burcaw to his newest venture was seeing a problem that had yet to be solved.
“My co-founder and I started Nami because a decade into the so-called App Economy, fewer than 3,000 apps make more than $1 million per year. We thought we could help by giving app developers another tool in their toolbox to struggle a little less in doing what they love.”
Nami ML helps app publishers to accelerate their revenue by adopting and optimizing for a subscription-based business model. Though he’s a serial entrepreneur, Burcaw recognizes the inherent difficulties with starting and running a business and has some advice for potential entrepreneurs:
“For all the attention startups get in pop culture, they are incredibly difficult. If you are going to do it, make sure you're doing it for yourself. Also, make sure that you’re okay with failure. Most startups fail, but you’ll definitely learn from the experience that will help you avoid that outcome the next time.”
Tilled was born out of an industry-wide problem. As a consultant, Caleb Avery was asked by a number of different companies to look into a way for those companies to monetize their payments through a Payment Facilitator or a PayFac. What Avery found was that even the companies with over a billion dollars in annual payment volume couldn’t afford to build their own solutions to this problem.
Avery says, “At the board meeting where I presented the plan for what it would take for this company to become their own PayFac, the board members looked at me like I was crazy. It was quickly apparent to everyone in the room that, with the personnel they would need to hire, the time and money it would take and the liabilities they’d be responsible for, becoming a registered PayFac just wasn’t an option.” That’s how Tilled was born.
While the experience of being an entrepreneur can often feel isolating, this experience is even more true for entrepreneurs during COVID. “I started out as a solo founder, which is a lonely and difficult place to be even in the best of times,” says Avery. “I was investing my own money, hiring and managing developers, and then a little over a year into the journey, COVID hit. It was a difficult period for Tilled, but it also gave us an opportunity to slow down and spend more time talking with our customers. We found out they were having a hard time too, and we gained invaluable insight from them during that time.”
Avery shares that to get through the challenging times of COVID, he utilized digital networking. “Just in 2021 alone, my LinkedIn profile has received more than 250,000 views, and all of those impressions have been just as much for Tilled as for me. When I think about our pipeline of customers and investors, many of them have come from LinkedIn and the personal brand I’ve built online. I can’t recommend enough that everyone gets on there and starts talking about what interests you. You’ll find and attract similar people and sharing your experiences will pay dividends for yourself and your business.”
And, it helped him to be part of the startup communities of Denver and Boulder. “There are so many opportunities to collaborate with other local founders, and I’ve both reached out to others and had them reach out to me to compare notes and share experiences quite often. I think that’s very unique, and it’s been very helpful to me in building Tilled.”
He also shares that what’s special about the startup culture in Denver is that everyone is focused on relationships. “Here there is a big emphasis on relationships and education, and more people are willing to pick up the phone and spend an hour with you explaining a concept or answering your questions. While it’s true that most of the larger funds are on the coasts, there are many early-stage funds here in Colorado that provide fuel for our entrepreneurial spirit and have helped to get some truly innovative companies off the ground.”
If there’s one thing Liz Giorgi knows, it’s this: the power of online media. In 2013, she founded and launched Mighteor, a production company that specialized in online video strategy, working with brands such as Facebook, General Mills and US Bank. During her time with Mighteor, she realized that brands often lack the resources to create stunning visual content quickly and cost-effectively.
To solve that problem, she and creative soulmate Hayley Anderson built and launched soona, the first virtual content creation platform for ecommerce and marketing. With soona, companies can create and plan a photo or video shoot entirely online, hiring photographers, videographers and models and directing the shoot all from their own desks.
Giorgi says, “At soona, our mission is to make quality content accessible to brands of all sizes. With the explosion of the ecommerce space in recent years, the competition for consumer attention is ramping up, and brands need professional, custom content that truly stands out. And that’s where we come in! The soona creative team leverages every idea about production we’ve gathered over the years to genuinely revolutionize content creation.”
One of the reasons Giorgi enjoys being an entrepreneur and startup founder in Denver, Colorado, is the culture. “Denver is one of the best places in the country to grow a business. With a thriving culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, it has a burgeoning startup and entrepreneurial scene that is encouraging, collaborative and generous. Supported by the entire business community, Denver features a diverse collection of companies, from early-stage entrepreneurs to established organizations, striving to make the world a better place.”
She also mentions a number of helpful resources she’s accessed in her time as an entrepreneur in Denver — Techstars, Women Who Startup and Denver Startup Week.
Not only has Giorgi founded soona, at the same time, she’s also striving to support women in business. “I created the Candor Clause, an open-source legal disclosure to help close the gender gap in venture capital, foster an honest conversation about gender equality and protect against abusers and predators.”
One of the reasons she created the Candor Clause is because of her personal experience as an entrepreneur. “Despite having bootstrapped my way to multiple millions and now being on the much-hyped accelerator and VC routes, one of the most significant challenges of being an entrepreneur, at least for me, is being a woman in a male-dominated world. Founder life is difficult enough on its own, but those challenges are that much more pronounced for female founders.”
Giorgi wants to leave new founders and soon-to-be entrepreneurs with a piece of advice: Who you work with is more important than what you work on. “Collaboration makes entrepreneurship that much more enjoyable — and exponentially more meaningful. Given the vital importance of relationships, remember to stay true to your genuine self. When you refuse to bend in ways you find insincere to who you are and your belief system, you are that much more likely to attract individuals who share the same values as you do."
Ready to start your own business in Colorado? With plenty of ways to get outside and enjoy nature and lots of supportive resources for new entrepreneurs, it just might be the perfect place to start your next adventure. Get started and file for your free LLC today.
Page is a freelance content marketing writer with experience writing about small business, the future of the workplace and health. She also operates a weekly email newsletter where she shares advice on living an authentic, intentional life. When not writing, you can find Page traveling, fostering older cats and working as a sexual assault advocate.
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