The Dime's Denver Startup Week Recap

October 2, 2018

Unless you live under a rock (or maybe just outside Denver), you’re probably aware that last week was Denver Startup Week, an annual celebration of everything entrepreneurial across the Front Range. It also happens to be the largest free event of its kind in the world. (Yep, you read that right.) 2017’s Startup Week brought 19,000 people together, and based on our personal experience, we’re guessing that this year’s event likely saw even greater attendance.

With more than 200 presentations, panels, workshops, happy hours, social events, and job fairs taking place all over the city, it was impossible for us (or really anyone) to attend everything. Luckily, though, we got to check out two events that we felt might be especially relevant to our readership. Take a look at those recaps below, and be sure to sound off in the comments on anything you heard or saw at Denver Startup Week that resonated with you.

Accelerating the Next Generation of Founders: Innovation in K-12 Education

September 24

Business accelerators—programs that give developing companies access to mentorship, investors, and other support to help them become stable, self-sufficient companies—have become all the rage in entrepreneurship. But how are entrepreneurial skills being fostered and supported among educators, school founders, and K-12 students?

The three organizations in this panel proved that there’s no shortage of innovation happening within Colorado’s education system.

The participating organizations included:

Colorado Education Initiative, a statewide nonprofit organization that has been at the forefront of achievement, innovation, and change in Colorado’s K-12 public education system for 10 years. In all of its roles—as an implementation expert, an innovation thought leader, and a statewide convener—CEI stays true to a vision of equitable outcomes for every kid, and a belief in actions that lead to  sustainable changes to our education system.

GripTape Learning Challenge, an initiative that creates opportunities for youth to follow their passions—as inventors, designers, and producers—to actively construct their path for success and support other young people to do the same.

Moonshot edVentures, an organization that builds a diverse pipeline of leaders to design and launch the schools of tomorrow in Metro Denver. While Moonshot encourages its fellows to define their own vision and guiding principles, it believes that the schools of tomorrow generally embody the following elements:

  • Student ownership and agency
  • Push for outcomes, including and beyond academics
  • Personalized and deeper learning
  • A place where people want to work

Some key ideas we took away from their discussion:

  • Students are more likely to take calculated risks and pursue their dreams and interests if they feel they have a community of support behind them. If educators and administrators can commit to being there to catch them when they fall, they will be less fearful of failure.
  • For school systems to embrace innovation and explore new ways of doing things, they need forward-thinking, entrepreneurial leaders at the helm. However, in order for these leaders to want to remain in the system, they must feel supported in their entrepreneurial pursuits. Only when the system honors both their educator and their innovator mindset can it truly benefit from the forward-thinking perspective they have to offer.
  • Each student must be honored for their personal identity. Only then can they hope to reach their full potential.

Better Government Movement

September 25

Across the federal government, employees are asked to do more with less while also being tasked to solve complex problems. Meanwhile, there’s pressure from all sides for the government to become more efficient and effective, and a requirement on behalf of the public that it be responsive, resilient, and able to meet their needs.

Answering this call is the Better Government Movement at Innovation.gov, a crowdsourced, open source project within the Technology Transformation Services organization of the U.S. General Services Administration (say that five times fast) that was co-created by thousands of innovators across the government to explore what it takes to build and sustain a 21st century government. 

According to Brian Sano, Community of Practice Lead and presenter at Denver Startup Week, the Better Government Movement officially launched with a series of human-centered design workshops in March 2017. Since then, they have built an online toolkit to help communicate at scale the strategies necessary to evangelize innovation across the federal government.

Since the people working to implement and advocate for innovation within the government are experienced in research, networking, “bureaucracy hacking,” and figuring out how to get things done with limited resources, the toolkit isn’t meant to be a standalone “product;” rather, it’s a useful web resource that, combined with community and human interaction, will grow and iterate over time to meet workers’ evolving needs.

We here at The Dime went into the presentation not entirely sure what to expect. But we were truly impressed by the success the implementers of the project have already seen at the federal level, and optimistic about how those learnings and best practices, once honed, can eventually be applied at the state level—and right here in Colorado.

If you’re a state employee, we encourage you to take a look at the Better Government Movement’s toolkit and playbook—you may just be encouraged to impart change in your own little neck of the woods.