Leadership and Entrepreneurship Driving Innovation in Colorado

By Sacha Heppell - November 19, 2020

What’s so special about startups in Colorado? In a recently published podcast, Founder and CEO of SmartTab, Robert Niichel, discussed the local startup community with respected healthcare business leader Kent Thiry. They talked about the inspiration behind Colorado Thrives, helping the business community navigate COVID-19, and what makes startups succeed.

“Startup companies drive a huge impact in America’s lifelong fascination with innovation. It’s so important to Colorado that we maintain an environment that these small, cool companies can flourish and succeed enough to stay here, as opposed to being sold to some other company in another state,” said Founder and CEO of Colorado Thrives Kent Thiry.

Founded in 2013, Colorado Thrives is an organization that promotes innovation, collaboration, and equity in the business community. The organization is backed by 14 CEOs, presidents, and board members from Craig Hospital, Zayo Group, the Anschutz Corporation, UC Health, Liberty Global, Ball Corporation, CH2M, Vail Resorts, Vestar Capital, Colorado Impact Fund, Arrow Electronics, VF Corporation, T-Mobile, Blackhills Energy, Qwest, and DaVita.

Empowering Small Companies to Thrive
Niichel asked what smaller companies can do to ensure success in the Denver tech and medical hub. Drawing on 20 years of experience as the former CEO of DaVita, Thiry recommended several key factors that empower startups to perform well.

“If you can build a great plane that can fly faster than any other airplane, the worst place to save money is on the runway,” Thiry said.

1. Firstly, startups need sufficient capitalization to maintain independence. 

2. Secondly, a great board of directors can provide counsel, objectivity, and a network of contacts.

  1. One way to connect startups with sources of capital and contacts is events such as Denver Startup Week, which provide a marketplace where people can get to know each other. Denver Startup Week is a free, weeklong event that brings together 20,000 people to celebrate entrepreneurship in hundreds of downtown venues.
  2. Another way to facilitate innovation is helping universities develop vibrant curriculum instead of relying on outdated material. He recommends that universities work directly with the private sector, including hosting private sector facilities on the campuses.

“I think the more that the community can create an exchange, a marketplace where people can get to know each other, with events like Denver Startup Week, the better it is. These are 3 or 4 things that if we do them right, in particular working with the local incubators, we can have a very distinctively successful general startup environment, not just in MedTech,” Thiry said.



Looking Down the Road
With a commitment to economic mobility in the State, Colorado Thrives funded 12 companies through TechStars Workforce Development Accelerator. Niichel asked what Colorado Thrives is doing to help startup companies it has incubated through Colorado TechStars. The obstacles that startups are overcoming during the effects of COVID-19 are common problems for larger companies as well. They share best practices, setup remote capabilities, empower employees to retain their jobs, help supply companies retain their workforce, and connect customers with services and products. When companies put these best practices into place, it allows them to navigate the pandemic and stimulate the broader economy.

Those best practices are taking shape as Colorado Thrives cultivates workforce development, local incubators, and global networking groups. Colorado Thrives works with an organization called Braven, which helps young adults obtain job training skills. They also support EforAll, which provides capitol and business acumen for locals to start bakeries and restaurants. Additionally, they work with Coloradans to participate in an international networking group called Endeavor.

Thiry plans on doing more work in the future to mitigate challenges in homelessness, mental health, and transportation. He plans on expanding the membership of Colorado Thrives as more leaders join him in leaning into civic engagement and sharing innovative business practices. Listen in to the full episode below to learn more.






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