Millennials, Manufacturing and Momentum in Colorado's Startup Space

On Friday, July 8, 2016 Women in Business (WIB) and the Economic Development Group (EDG) of the South Metro Denver Chamber (SMDC) held their annual Joint Speaker Series. The event was entitled Exploring Colorado's Startup Space, in light of resounding statistics about entrepreneurship and technology in Colorado. Featured speakers were Debra Wilcox, Founder & CEO of The 3D Printing Store; Peter Melby, President of Greystone Technology; and Jeremiah Fellows, Expert Marketing Consultant.

Hardly a week passes without Colorado or the metro Denver area making headlines with the latest ranking or innovative new company. Colorado ranked fourth for early-stage venture capital investment in 2012. Even though investment dipped sharply by this year as reported by the Denver Business Journal, that was a trend across the nation. The numbers are still very strong. According to the South Metro Denver Chamber, “Colorado startups raised more than $683 million in new funding and generated over $2.7 billion in exit revenues across the state” in 2015.

By presenting this panel discussion about the startup space in Colorado, event organizers were hoping to help answer the question, “What does this mean for you?” for the wide-range of leading businesses which comprise chamber membership. After all, if a company isn’t looking for venture capital or high-risk projects, why does it matter if there are a lot of startups in the community? It turns out that it matters in a variety of ways, from the talent pool to production methods to employee benefits.

One speaker, Peter Melby, confessed that he is not a fan of startup culture.  It may do the tech industry a disservice. He’d like to say, “No ping pong table required” in a nod to the play-hard-work-harder perception often associated with startups. But he acknowledges that flexibility is often required to attract the best candidates in his industry. This culture most associated with Millennials in the workplace is the one that appeals to Gen X and Baby-Boomer employees as well. “We have the momentum of economics, and we need to be good stewards of that,” he explained.

Another speaker, Debra Wilcox, explained how this culture has been extremely attractive as her business went from being somewhat obscure to one of the biggest game-changers of this century – 3D printing. Specifically, The 3D Printing Store was among Colorado’s first to make this technology accessible. She has seen how the marketplace and channels for distribution transformed or are completely novel. It is the time of “the Maker Economy” as companies like hers lead the way in manufacturing. This is one example of how the startup space is not just for what may be considered tech companies. Look for Deb speaking about Women in Manufacturing at Denver Startup Week.

Jeremiah Fellows, another speaker, provided some strong advice about the startup culture. All businesses can best take advantage of being in one of the best places in the country for innovation. “We need to be disciplined about what brought people here,” to protect the entrepreneurial spirit and business-friendly policies as well as the character of our communities. “Gentrification pushes out creativity,” he wrapped up. It certainly gave the crowd something to consider far beyond how the startup space effects not just you and you, but us all.

The event was hosted by Arapahoe Libraries District (ALD) at Koelbel Library in Centennial. As Colorado Business Roundtable reported, ALD Executive Director Nicolle Davies was named the 2016 Library Journal Librarian of the Year. It is the first time that a librarian in Colorado has earned this honor.

Leaders from SMDC also briefly addressed the crowd: Kimberly Alexander, Chair of WIB; Doug Tisdale, Executive VP of Economic Development; Bob Golden, President and Chief Executive Officer; and Kim DeCoste, Chair of the upcoming Women in Business Ignite and Elevate Conference. In fact, the topic of generational opportunities in the workplace will be explored further at the September 8 conference with the theme, "Generations of Leadership." Registration is open to everyone, not just women and not just chamber members! Click here for information about tickets, sponsorship and awards.