Could Denver Startup Week, which kicked off its second annual edition Monday, grow into an event that rivals the likes of South By Southwest Interactive?
Organizers say Denver Startup Week is already the largest of its kind in the nation, offering 125 sessions and meetings geared toward growing and uniting the city and state's entrepreneurial community. The sessions, in and around downtown Denver through Saturday, are all free.
"This event is pretty rare," said serial entrepreneur Seth Godin, this year's keynote speaker. "It's not just rare for me; it's rare for the world."
Nearly 5,000 people have registered for Denver Startup Week, double last year's registrations. The kickoff lunch Monday at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts attracted 725 attendees.
Key sponsors the Downtown Denver Partnership, Colorado Technology Association and JPMorgan Chase contributed $150,000 to turn a former restaurant on the 16th Street Mall into a 3,000-square-foot base camp that will serve as the week's central station.
"The core intent is that we want Denver Startup Week to be a true celebration of everything startup in Denver and Colorado," said CTA CEO Erik Mitisek. "We're inspired by things like South by Southwest, but we want to do it Denver-style."
SXSWi, an annual conference held in Austin, Texas, that features several days of presentations and panels focused on emerging technology, attracted more than 30,000 attendees this year.
Southwest Airlines, one of the dominant carriers at Denver International Airport, is participating in this year's Denver Startup Week by hosting a napkin business idea competition.
Playing off the story that Southwest's business concept initially surfaced on a cocktail napkin, the airline asked attendees Monday to write down a business idea on a napkin. One winner will be selected for a free trip to visit with Southwest's management team, including CEO Gary Kelly, at the company's headquarters in Dallas.
Chase also announced Monday that it will award $25,000 each to six nonprofits. Many of the candidates have a technology focus. The winning nonprofits, selected in part by attendees, will be disclosed this week.
Godin officially kicked off Denver Startup Week by telling hundreds of budding business minds to focus on serving a niche rather than focusing on the masses.
"If you tell me that you are making something for everyone, I will tell you that you are making something for no one," said Godin, whose latest company is social content platform Squidoo.
He highlighted the story of a couple of guys in New York who created a business out of selling mismatched socks to grade-school girls. The business has reached $40 million of annual sales, Godin said.
In an interview prior to the speech, he said top piece of advice he would give to budding entrepreneurs is that they should simply "start."
"They're hiding. They're looking for a reason why this is not the time for them to start something — that Denver's not in the right frame," Godin said. "It's completely untrue. This is our golden moment."