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Will the Mile-High City Become ‘Silicon Mountain’? Here’s What Coloradans Say

Denver is looking like its own business hub, Silicon Mountain.

The beautiful weather and topography conducive to an outdoor lifestyle is what draws many people to the Centennial State. Rob Auston, cofounder of Auckland Outdoors, a Denver-based startup, believes that the attributes of active people help spur entrepreneurial activity in the so-called “Silicon Mountain.”

“You can’t just fake it,” he said. “You’ve got to put in the time. I think that [drive is] a characteristic of active people, and there are a lot in Denver.”

One of the keys to building a successful startup community is having great talent, and one of the ways to lure great talent is with an attractive location, something that Colorado has in spades.

Nestled high up in the Rocky Mountains, Denver is the next city to compete in 1776’s Challenge Cup, which will take place at the startup incubator Galvanize this Thursday.

Though many of the competing startups are located in the Mile-High City, others are coming from Denver’s neighboring startup hubs, including Boulder.

And while there is a lot of hype about a rivalry between the startup communities in Denver and Boulder, not everyone agrees that it exists.

Several Challenge Cup competitors, including Auston and Marc Geman, CEO of Monitor My Meds, another Denver startup, don’t feel a sense of competition between the cities at all. Boulder resident Dave Cass, CEO and cofounder of Uvize, agrees.

“I think we consider ourselves part of the same community,” he said. “At least that’s how I feel.”

Meanwhile, Oleg Rutman, founder and CEO of Total Health Card, said he believes there used to be a more competitive atmosphere between the two cities. Now, though, “the edges are blurring, and I think it’s becoming more Colorado.”

According to Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, part of this sense of community and culture is due to the fact that two-thirds of the people who live in Colorado moved there from somewhere else.

“We’re all used to being the new person in town [and] we’re extremely welcoming,” she said. “I think we spend less time evaluating if you’re going to be good for us and more time making sure you’re going to be successful here.”

But this sense of collaboration doesn’t mean that the startup community isn’t serious about competition or success.

“We take collaboration very seriously [but then we] compete the heck against each other,” said Brough. “We have the perfect combination of when you work together and when you compete.”

Brough also emphasized that while there is a lot of attention on the cities of Boulder and Denver, the startup communities in Fort Collins-Loveland and Colorado Springs also are booming.

The data back up this claim. A 2013 report issued by Engine, a technology policy coalition, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation listed all four cities on its list of the country’s top 10 metro areas in terms of high-tech startup density.

While each city’s startup community is impressive in its own right, Erik Mitisek, CEO of the Colorado Technology Association, argues that instead of concentrating on the individual cities, a more appropriate way to think about it is as the “Colorado startup community.”

Mitisek said that the integration between the cities has accelerated over the past 24 to 36 months, in part because of how close the cities are geographically: It takes an hour or less to travel from Denver to any of the other three areas. He added that all of the cities also have similar cultures, which helps unite them.

“I think the culture in Colorado has always been very entrepreneurial,” he said, “and I think from the earliest times of our existence there’s always been this feeling of, ‘We can get this done and we can climb this mountain.’”

One of the main challenges to climbing this particular mountain is getting seed and venture capital funding, and startups sometimes need to go out of state to find it. But, Nic Gray, founder and CEO of Hyprloco, believes the culture is changing. “It’s not quite the mecca for funding as Silicon Valley, but it’s getting a lot better,” he said.

Of course, the challenge to find funding certainly isn’t impeding startup growth. In 2012, entrepreneurs launched 122 Colorado technology startups—equivalent to a new startup every 72 hours. Software and B2B Web were the fastest-growing sectors with Consumer Web coming in third. In all, startups raised over $502 million in 2012.

“It has been exciting to see the growth of the startup community and innovation economy in the Rocky Mountain region over the last few years,” said Lawrence Mandes, cofounder and managing partner of Galvanize.

That Rocky Mountain-region growth has helped Colorado establish itself as a leader. According to Mitisek, Colorado is “truly poised to become the definable technology and innovation center between the coasts.”

In the meantime, entrepreneurs enjoy the mountain views and beautiful weather. Speaking from his office in Denver, Geman asked rhetorically, “Why not have your startup here?”

Sarah DeLucia is a freelance writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.