For many, Colorado evokes images of wildlife, mountains, skiing and other (recently legalized) recreational activities. But did you know that Colorado, and particularly the Denver-Boulder area, is also a hub of innovation and entrepreneurial activity?
According to Startup Colorado, a regional consortium of entrepreneurs who share a vision of expanding entrepreneurship along the "Front Range" of cities stretching from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, Boulder alone boasts no less than 166 startups and 7 investor groups. Some former startups are now established and very well-known -- Coors Brewing Company and Celestial Seasonings -- while others are on the rise now: Camp Bow Wow, Level 3 Communications, Spyder (ski apparel) and Rudi's Organic Bakery.
California's Silicon Valley has long been the premier hot spot for start-ups, but here are some reasons why Colorado just might be next in line:
At the state level, Colorado has adopted a number of innovative strategies in its successful efforts to attract high caliber people and companies. Colorado is ranked #8 on CNBC's list of best states for business. Metro Denver scored #5 on Forbes' 2012 "Best places for business and careers" list, while Fort Collins came in at #3. USA Today ranks Boulder/Denver as a top 10 city for technology start-ups. Moreover, Colorado, on a per capita basis, is well ahead of other states in the areas of green technology, health care, telecom, energy, aerospace, bioscience, high tech, health food and organics.
Among companies that have relocated or expanded operations to Colorado are Arrow Electronics, Vestas Wind Systems, DaVita, Lockheed Martin, Hitachi Data Systems and the new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All of these moves signal recognition of Colorado's unique quality of life, business-friendliness, availability of capital and drive to spur innovation. As U.S. Senator Michael Bennett (D-Colorado) said regarding Hitachi's recent move, "It is recognition that Colorado is an environment where innovative companies like Hitachi can thrive."
Several of Colorado's universities are also honing their business innovation and entrepreneurship programs. One such program is spearheaded by the Women's Council, which is part of the Deming Center at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU). In concert with CU's business school, the Women's Council is sponsoring a one-day program where leading business professionals and entrepreneurs will come together with MBA students (principally, but not exclusively, women) to provide role models, leadership lessons, mentoring and coaching. The WILD Summit will take place on February 1, 2013. Shelly Lazarus, Chair Emeritus of Ogilvy & Mather, will anchor the program as the keynote speaker:
"I was delighted when The Women's Council approached me to keynote their inaugural WILD Summit event. Encouraging more women to choose the leadership path, regardless of their age, career or industry is good for both women and the economy. The WILD summit offers a unique venue for women of all stages in their career to gain access to new ideas, people and leadership development strategies. I'm glad to be part of it."
Another speaker, Holly Hamann, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of BlogFrog, wants to pass along knowledge to younger women gained from her 18+ years of experience in the technology start-up arena.
"It's so easy to get consumed by what it takes to run a business that we forget a whole generation of students and young women are eager to join us, and just need some leadership and guidance. Colorado has an exceptional community when it comes to entrepreneurship, start-ups, innovation and collaboration. I have benefited greatly from the wisdom of seasoned entrepreneurs who gave their time to me when I was new to start-ups and I am eager to pass that benefit on to others.
Entrepreneurship has always come with an element of risk, but the risks often seem to get more attention these days than the rewards and benefits. My goal is to emphasize the possibilities of entrepreneurship and not the limitations. It's a balance of the two, but it would be a shame if a student with a passionate idea and desire to innovate in a space were discouraged unnecessarily before they even gave it a try."
The goal of this cutting-edge program is to build and nurture leaders of the future -- particularly who have been sidelined in the past, such as young women.According to Liz Coker, COO of 3PMobile and a Women's Council member, "This program embodies social innovation in how we prepare our leaders for tomorrow." Leslie Smail, an MBA student at the Leeds School of Business at CU, concurs, "Women are still largely underrepresented in MBA programs nationwide, so I think it's great to see the Women's Council working hard to pave the way for those of us trying to make our way into the business world." Another MBA student, Denelle Numis, cited the help she's received,
As a 2nd year MBA student at Leeds, I've found great mentorship from the members of the Women's Council. Not only has my personal mentor been a strong force of encouragement and support in my career development thus far, but I've connected with other strong women involved in many different entrepreneurial ventures. The Boulder community is already so supportive, but the Women's Council allows us the opportunity to connect with strong female business professionals on a much deeper level. The WILD Women's Summit is a perfect example of that.
If you have a hankering for some different experiences, come to Colorado. The women are WILD and love to innovate.
This post first appeared on Forbes.com.