In recent years, “startup” has become among the most frequently used terms in the business world — but along with its ubiquity has come some confusion as to its definition.
British venture capitalist Paul Graham defined a startup company as simply one that is built for scalability.
“Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup,” according to Graham. “Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of ‘exit.’ The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.”
But things are not always that cut and dried, making the task of educating people on startups an ongoing challenge.
“When I first moved here a couple of years ago, I’m not sure anyone really understood what ‘startup’ meant,” said Michelle Parvinrouh, interim executive director of Colorado Springs-based nonprofit Peak Startup.
The challenge of teaching people what startups are and how they function in a larger culture is one that Parvinrouh and her team are hoping to address during this year’s third annual Colorado Springs Startup Week, Sept. 26-30.
The event is organized by Peak Startup, an organization focused on supporting the local entrepreneurial community, with the help of sponsors including Catalyst Campus (an “ecosystem for innovation” located at 555 E. Pikes Peak Ave. in Colorado Springs), Epicentral Coworking (a co-working space located at 415 N. Tejon St. in Colorado Springs), the Zayo Group (a Boulder-based company specializing in communications infrastructure services) and Comcast Corp. (which has a significant local presence).
The event, which is billed as a celebration of the startup and entrepreneurial community, will include more than 50 free events ranging from lectures and panel discussions, to breakout sessions on marketing and software development, to a keynote speech by four-time Winter Olympics luge medalist Rubén González.
“Rubén González speaks a lot on overcoming challenges and using fear as motivation,” Parvinrouh said. “He knows that you have to overcome that fear and that you also have to be scrappy enough to keep moving forward — even if you fail, you fail forward.”
In years past, Peak Startup took a broader approach with the event’s content, focusing very generally on the subjects of small business and entrepreneurism. This year, Parvinrouh said the event’s agenda items are designed to be more directly related to Peak Startup’s modus operandi.
“This year we’re going to really make sure that the subject matter is all targeted toward startups,” she said. “It’s a very different way of operating, and because of that we wanted to focus more on startups as another possible economic diversification strategy for our city.”
Paul Nielsen, the Peak Startup board member (one of 14) chairing the event, said Startup Week is aimed at people with varying interests in the startup culture, from those looking to participate in a startup to those interested in investing in one, as well as startup owners who wish to improve their skills or common folk who are simply interested in the movement.
“It will be very educational for people who are already in it; for people who are interested in getting into it; for people who want to refine or improve; and for people who want to potentially invest in it,” Parvinrouh said.
Nielsen, who also runs a startup called Tejon Technologies, said that it was the first Colorado Springs Startup Week that helped him access the entrepreneurial community here and eventually get plugged into local co-working and startup circles.
“It’s hard for you to get your hands around this amoeba that is Colorado Springs’ startup culture while you’re working on your own startup … because it’s a massive amount of work to do that,” he said. “Events like this and organizations like Peak Startup are what helps to connect all of those dots that make up the local startup ecosystem.”
Both Parvinrouh and Nielsen, as well as the many entrepreneurs in town, see the bolstering of that local startup ecosystem as yet another opportunity to diversify and strengthen the Colorado Springs economy.
“It’s very important for a community to have a vibrant startup culture in it,” Nielsen said. “Because it provides a high-energy, creative vibe that attracts people, that attracts money, and really keeps the larger companies on their toes.”
Parvinrouh said that those vibrant startup cultures have the ability to attract investment dollars from outside the geographic region, which, in a town full of nonprofits, could prevent Colorado Springs from over-tapping its local fiscal resources.
“There are multiple economic benefits to having a successful startup ecosystem in Colorado Springs,” she said.
And, with community assets such as Catalyst Campus, Epicentral, Peak Startup and events such as Startup Week, Nielsen said there is no reason to think such an ecosystem won’t thrive in Colorado Springs.
“When you think of high-tech startups, you think of Silicon Valley, Austin, Boulder, New York and Seattle — because those are the five cities that are best known for it,” Nielsen said. “But we could do that here!”