Michelle Parvinrouh’s blood runs thick with the kind of risk-taking and foresight it takes to be an entrepreneur in the 21st century. During the ramp-up to the 1979 revolution, her parents fled Iran to pursue the American dream and settled in Alabama, where they raised their children and started a successful gymnastics business. Parvinrouh, 33, moved to Colorado in 2006 for graduate school at University of Colorado Denver and developed a dream of her own — to make an impact in the exciting world of startups. She has since moved to Colorado Springs and become the executive director of Peak Startup, a nonprofit devoted to bolstering the local entrepreneurial community. Parvinrouh spoke to the Business Journal this week about moving to Colorado, getting plugged into a movement and becoming one of its most staunch local advocates.
Can you tell us how you got introduced to the startup scene?
I was born and raised in Mobile, Ala. I went out to Denver a little over 10 years ago for grad school, and I stayed in Denver for about eight years. While I was there — through the program I was in for school — I got really involved in the entrepreneurship program at CU Denver and started working for them part-time. Once I graduated, I started working at the university in the business school and remained involved with the entrepreneurship program. Eventually, after about three years, I took over that program and managed it. That’s how I got introduced to the startup scene. … Even when I went off to the corporate world, I still kept my ties to that network and continued to be involved with their events and programs.
How did you get involved with Peak Startup?
When I moved down to the Springs [in November 2014], I was in sales with a company that really valued volunteer work and community involvement … so I did a lot of research and I discovered Peak Startup and Epicentral and I reached out to both. At that time I had five-plus years of experience in the sector and didn’t know how I could be helpful, but I knew that I could be.
So Hannah [Parsons] and Lisa [Tessarowicz] took me under their wing and I helped them with the first “Go Code” and some other events, and then I got plugged in with the board of Peak Startup.
How did that evolve into your current position as executive director?
A few years down the road, after I had moved to Colorado Springs, they were looking to hire their first contractor, and I applied for the position of program coordinator. So I started by working a lot with events, and we started to look for an executive director. At that time, I had accepted a position with a local startup that is now FoodMaven. As that organization evolved, I made some career changes and came back to Peak Startup as a board member. At that point, it made sense to come in as executive director. So I started as interim director in September and then signed on as the executive director in December.
Why did you move from Denver to the Springs?
When I moved to Denver about 10 years ago, it was the best thing for me. I was 22, and it was this great place to grow up, find myself and explore my career. … The simplest reason why I left is probably the population boom. It got to a point where I didn’t feel very connected to the city. Traffic got worse, prices for everything went up … and I didn’t find that there was a real sense of community there. Coming from a small town in Alabama, I started to miss that. … So I came down here, went on a few hikes and tooled around downtown on a bike — and I just felt better here. When I finally moved down here, it was great because I had no idea I could care as deeply about this community as I do.
How is the local startup scene different than what you saw in Denver?
Denver has such a rich density that Colorado Springs just doesn’t — yet. I think of our startup community as just a few years behind Denver. We’re still in a very educational phase in our development.
What is Peak Startup’s role in that?
Peak Startup is kind of in this position where, for the past few years, we’ve really just tried to build up the community around startups. … One of the ways we do that is by building a mentor network so that people can have peers to talk to, bounce ideas off of and be really involved one-on-one. Our three pillars are mentorship, education and networking.
How would you describe your role at Peak Startup?
I work a lot in development and coordinating everything we have going on — including all our events. Once we get some of the programs we’re currently working on in place and running well, I will be doing a lot of community advocacy and some public affairs work. I’m the face of the organization and the one tasked with keeping the bus moving in the right direction.