Issue: January 2013
Tags: Tom Clark, Teri Ripetto, Susan Barnes-Gelt, Robert White, Nora Pykkonen, Michael Hancock, Masai Ujiri, Karin Sheldon, Jonathan Vaughters, Jim Schanel, Jim Deters, Harvey Steinberg, Dede de Percin, David Wineland, Daniel Junge, Christopher Hill, Charles Burrell, Alan Salazar
Ever wish you could ask the mayor about urban development, or a battalion chief about fighting the Waldo Canyon fire, or a Nobel Prize winner about the nature of reality? In our first-ever Interview Issue, we asked 18 of the city’s brightest, most outspoken leaders and personalities those questions, and many more. Turn the page to hear them speak out—in their own words.
The founder of Galvanize, a collaborative workspace in the Golden Triangle, talks about not being employable, overcoming fear, and Denver’s entrepreneurial renaissance. Interview by Katy Neusteter
You’re from Chicago—how did Colorado become home?
I landed in Denver on July 22, 1998, with a bike, a snowboard, and a bag of clothes. I knew nobody, but I moved for the quality of life, and I knew I’d figure it out.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial streak?
I learned at a pretty young age I wasn’t employable. Maybe it’s the innate desire to be free. I didn’t want to have an idea and have someone tell me I couldn’t do it. I think it’s a curse sometimes.
Are you a risk-taker?
I guess in a classical sense, yes, I take risks. But to me it’s more about having the courage to step into the unknown even if I don’t have the answer or if it’s really scary. Is that risky? I suppose. But I think you can build a medium that helps people take that step.
Explain the concept behind Galvanize.
For a startup community to be successful, it needs density—one spot where people can convene, share ideas, and help each other. This is a container for that. It’s my entrepreneurial response to making Denver a better place to start a company.
Is it an “accelerator”?
Accelerators are 90-day intensive programs for teams working on fledgling ideas. At the end, they spit you out with a little capital. Galvanize isn’t an accelerator, but it could be a container for one. The confluence of things coming together here is crazy interesting. We have real estate development, venture capital, community entrepreneurship, a restaurant team, a private school. I thought this could be a good mechanism to get good deal-flow, to look at great companies, and then cherry-pick great investments on the venture side. We’re trying to create rich soil where people can grow great businesses.
But doesn’t Denver already have tons of startups?
Yes, but we’ve also had a sucking problem: We hatch a great company, and it gets sucked out due to a lack of venture capital and community.
So we need to harvest what we plant…
Look at what Groupon did for Chicago: It was born in Chicago, it grew in Chicago, it went public in Chicago. The amount of capital and energy that pumped into growing Chicago’s startup community is unbelievable. It was kerosene on their fire. And if we can do that same thing here—grow one, raise one, take it public—it will provide a deeper medium for growing more companies.
There’s an entrepreneurial renaissance taking shape here. Denver is one of the top net-gainers of millennials in the nation. They don’t want to work in gray cubicles in self-proclaimed “technological centers.” That’s a game changer. People ages 25 to 34 are more interested in doing what’s important to them. And those corporate paths are gone anyway, so these young people are being forced to create their own things—to be entrepreneurs. Plus, the same tech is available to everybody.
It’s the laptop generation, right?
When I started a software company in 1998, you had to spend a shitload of money on hardware and bandwidth. Now we all have the same access to computing power. So whoever has the talent will win. Any big company that isn’t scared about two guys working in a place like Galvanize is playing a fool’s game, because that technological ubiquity has leveled the playing field for everybody to be successful.
What’s down the road?
This isn’t some flash in the pan. I’m not trying to capitalize on a trend and make a bunch of money in a few years. If that were the case, I would lose my ass because this is not a short-term bet. Ultimately, I want to be a venture capitalist, and to do that and win, I need great talent and companies to invest in.
You like to bike and build companies. What else?
For-profit social ventures are a huge passion of mine. It’s capitalistic jujitsu. How do you take passion, creativity, and entrepreneurial energy, and solve problems that count?
You helped launch ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro downtown. What has the restaurant business taught you?
That everything can be perfectly executed, but if you don’t get the human element right, you lose. I think every business could use a dose of hospitality.
Is the business world now different than when you started?
The pace is daunting now. It’s insane how difficult it is. I don’t care what industry you’re in, you better be excited and embrace the change.
You sound fearless.
I’m not fearless. I’m fucking scared all the time. But do you crawl in a hole or do you actually start taking action?
You’re raising three kids with your wife. Are you in Denver to stay?
This may be an age thing, but I have a deep sense of wanting to belong to a community. I want to see this community win. I want to raise the tide for everybody. I’m not going anywhere.