Denver looks to startup campus to galvanize city

Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Galvanize co-founders, from left, Tony Mugavero, Jim Deters and Lawrence Mandes hold the outdoor sign in the lobby area before it gets attached to their building space in Denver. Galvanize, a large co-working space that can hold up to 70 tech companies, opened its doors last month in downtown Denver’s Golden Triangle. Enlarge photo

Andy Cross/The Denver Post Galvanize co-founders, from left, Tony Mugavero, Jim Deters and Lawrence Mandes hold the outdoor sign in the lobby area before it gets attached to their building space in Denver. Galvanize, a large co-working space that can hold up to 70 tech companies, opened its doors last month in downtown Denver’s Golden Triangle.

DENVER (AP) – The transformation of a historic building into a digital-startup nucleus is galvanizing the Denver community, from civic leaders to young entrepreneurs to seasoned executives.

The aptly named Galvanize project near the urban core offers the city a combination of services not yet seen at a single location. It will provide up to 70 startups – the small businesses that are expected to drive half of Denver’s workforce growth for the foreseeable future – access to shared workspace, investors, mentorship and a software-programming school.

It is launching as the city ushers in a new era in tech, showcasing the community with the inaugural Denver Startup Week held last month. Galvanize hosted some of the week’s more than 70 sessions.

“At the Office of Economic Development, we think the work that Galvanize is doing is just absolutely critical,” said Paul Washington, executive director of Denver’s economic-development office. “It makes Denver a more attractive place to work for the 21st-century employee.”

Privately funded Galvanize could become the cornerstone of Denver’s efforts to raise its profile on the national tech scene. Such initiatives also are unfolding in Las Vegas, Chicago and other cities.

The Innovation Pavilion, a co-working space in the Denver Tech Center, opened last year, but it is too far from the city center to create the critical mass that is vital to leading tech communities such as Boulder’s.

“This is something that Denver has lacked and absolutely needs – a tech/entrepreneurial culture where we can all come together as a community,” said Rentbits founder Dan Daugherty, a former Google executive. “Even Google by itself understood the value of keeping people close in proximity, offering free lunches and so forth.”

Rentbits, which provides online tools and search for the rental industry, was moving into Galvanize last week, relocating its headquarters from the Denver Tech Center.

Galvanize is the brainchild of Jim Deters, a tech entrepreneur better known in Denver circles as a restaurateur.

Before opening ChoLon Bistro in Lower Downtown with his wife, Deters co-founded Ascendant Technology, an information-technology consulting firm that reached $90 million in annual revenue and was acquired this year by Avnet.

Deters left Ascendant in May 2011 and has spent much of his time since then serving as an angel investor, cutting checks to startups and subletting his LoDo office for free to budding entrepreneurs.

“I kept seeing all of this activity,” Deters said. “I kept using this word, ‘who’s going to galvanize the community?’ There’s just a ton going on here, but it’s just not really well-organized.”

Deters and his team acquired the old Rocky Mountain Bank Note Co. building at 1062 Delaware St. in August from developer Mickey Zeppelin, whose Taxi project in the River North district also offers flexible workspace.

In turning the Bank Note building into an entrepreneurial campus, Deters traveled the country studying similar projects, such as 1871 in Chicago and Amplify in Los Angeles.

“I wanted to devise something that created density so that we can actually have that critical mass that Boulder has created on the west end of Pearl Street down here in Denver,” Deters said.

The location in the Golden Triangle area is near a bike trail and is a short ride from other key downtown points, such as LoDo and the Central Platte Valley.

“To do it right, you need about 30,000 square feet of critical mass,” Deters said. “But if you go up vertically and start chopping that up by 5,000-square-foot floor plates, you lose that integration, that sense of community.”

The two-story building features an open layout and abundant skylights. It combines standard business amenities with cool and edgy features. It is wired to offer always-on high-speed bandwidth. Gather, a full-service café, will anchor the lobby.

A handful of Voice-over-IP phone booths dot the layout. A conference room can double in size with the raising of a garage door that sits at the center of the space. The atrium can quickly be cleared out to host gatherings of 400.

“We can accommodate one guy with an idea to three guys wanting to just have a month-to-month desk to companies that are six, eight, 15 (employees) that are gaining traction,” Deters said.

An entrepreneur can pay $300 a month for access to communal atrium workspace or $450 a month for a permanent desk on the mezzanine level. A dozen private office suites are on the periphery, housing startups ranging from six to 30 employees.

All of the suites have been snatched up by companies such as Uber, Roximity and Forkly.

Roximity, which offers location-based marketing deals and services, is a nine-employee startup that graduated from the TechStars accelerator program in Boulder in August.

“Being surrounded by startups all day, every day, really is motivating and creates positive energy all around,” said Danny Newman, Roximity co-founder and chief executive. “We were excited to find a space like that when we moved back down to Denver.”

Tech veterans and venture capitalists such as Brad Feld, David Cohen, Jon Nordmark and Luke Beatty have committed to serve as honorary members, promising to hold office hours at least once a month or quarter to mentor the up-and-coming.

“From my perspective, I like it most because it keeps startups from having to work in isolated environments – like remotely from their homes – at a time when sitting next to one another is an essential part of building the energy and group-think necessary to execute,” said Beatty, founder of Associated Content and a former vice president at Yahoo.

Community is one of the three pillars of the project. The others are capital and curriculum. The Galvanize team has investments in a couple of startups and additional funds to inject into others.

The so-called gSchool will launch in January with a six-month programming course covering Ruby on Rails. Two dozen students will be accepted at $20,000 a head. With Ruby developers in high demand, Deters said graduates should expect to earn at least $70,000 a year in their first job.

Washington, Denver’s economic-development chief, said the city is looking at ways to partner with Galvanize on future projects. The city announced winners of its first business-plan competition at Galvanize. The top prize included $50,000 and free office space.

On its website, Zeppelin Development describes the Bank Note building as an “iconic gateway to the Golden Triangle.”

After sitting vacant for more than a year, its rebirth may open the door for Denver to become a nationally recognized technology and startup hub.

“This is going to be a game-changer for the city,” Deters said. “As this thing comes on line, people will be amazed by this super-vibrant startup scene. Hopefully, we’re going to be providing fuel to this entrepreneurial renaissance.”

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story