DSW 18: How to Successfully Navigate Denver Startup Week

Lisa Bongiovanni

Denver Startup Week has returned! For an entire week, downtown Denver is going to be inundated with entrepreneurs, marketers, business owners, tech junkies, designers, app developers, and business enthusiasts. That’s right: Denver Startup Week. This year, the event spans from September 24th to the 28th, and it’s bigger than ever.

If you’ve attended any Denver Startup Week festivities in the past, you know that there’s a lot going on. I’ve talked to plenty of people who are at events but have no idea why they’re at the event. “Free beer!” is one that I’ve heard a lot (by the way: if scoring free drinks is all that’s important to you, I’d suggest skipping Denver Startup Week altogether).

So, how do you actually make the most out of your week?

Use Tracks and Clusters to Plan Your Week

I’ll be the first one to tell you that I suffer from FOMO, so seeing the hundreds of events across the city all week gives me the slightest bit of anxiety. What if I miss something I really want to see? What if I don’t pick the right events? Luckily, Denver Startup Week makes organizing a schedule easier with tracks and clusters.

  • Denver Startup Week uses tracks to describe the different themes for events during the week. Each track is oriented towards the different major roles within a startup, allowing you to pick events specific to your specialty. There are six tracks this year: Designer, Developer, Growth, Maker, Product, and Founder. You can also select events from the Headline Track for the big names that DSW is bringing in this year, or the Social Events to network, whet your whistle, and hand out your carefully-designed business cards. Pick the events that correlate to your basic job function, or a world that you’d like to learn about. Use the tracks as a guide. Obviously, you can attend whichever events you want, but don’t swoop into a developer happy hour unless you actually care about development. Free beer is not enough of a reason to attend an event.
  • Where tracks are organized by functionality within a business, Denver Startup Week also organizes events by topic and industry cluster. These events are specific to particular industries or hot-button topics within the startup community. This year, the clusters are Cannabis Industry, IoT (Internet of Things), Healthtech, and, for the first time in 2018, Blockchain. Picking clusters relevant to your industry, or the industry of your clients, will allow you to more strategically form a schedule. Furthermore, if you’re new to the world of startups, the Business Basics cluster might be a great place to start.

Network, But Network Intelligently

I think the best thing about Denver Startup Week is it brings thousands of people together, for a variety of reasons. Plenty of marketing agencies look at Denver Startup Week as a way to rub elbows with their future clients. Business owners, after years of saying “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing,” will attend events to hopefully grab some knowledge from the stacked lineup of local influencers. Startup greenhorns will go as a way to pick out some techniques and methodologies that they can apply to their new career.

Yes, Startup Week is a great place to meet the who’s who in your industry. Many of the events center around making introductions, handing out business cards, and talking about yourself. Now, I shouldn’t have to say this, but there’s a right way to network, and there are dozens of catastrophically wrong ways to network. Some things to keep in mind:

  • You are representing either yourself or your company. Let me say that again. You are representing either yourself or your company. Dress professionally, and never be the drunkest one in the room.
  • Don’t be “that guy.” You know the one I’m talking about. The guy who is handing out business cards like he’s paid to do it. Sure, your business card is your paper identity, but people make connections with people, not pieces of paper.
  • Have something to say. If you’re going to strike up a conversation with someone, make sure that you have something to talk about. And not just, “Oh wow. Would you believe all this free beer?!”

Consider Logistics

Building a personal schedule for Denver Startup Week can be a daunting task, and it’s very important to remember some logistical considerations for the events you pick.

  • Arrive early to events, especially to the more popular events on your schedule (Denver Startup Week shows you how many people are currently signed up for an event). A lot of venues have very limited space, and most of the time, it’s a first come, first served sort of deal. If you’re wandering into a talk some 10 minutes after it’s started, not only is that rude, but it’s very likely you’ll have to find somewhere else to be.
  • Give yourself time between events. Luckily, the majority of events are right smack dab in the middle of Denver and are easily walkable, but consider your schedule’s route. If you want to hit that growth marketing event that ends at 11:30, and then that designers powwow at 12, make sure you’re going to be able to get to the second event with some time. It’s a loooong walk from The Commons on Champa to WeWork LoHi, but Lyft and Uber are always great options if time is going to be a crunch. It’s also worth noting that this year’s DSW has quite a few events up in RiNo, which can be a considerable schlep from any of the LoDo locations.

Document

Like anything else what you put into Denver Startup Week correlates to how much you get out of it. Take notes! Write about your experiences. Publish blogs about what you learned. Not only is this a great way to network and get noticed by like-minded folks in the Denver startup community, it could be crucial for you to remember the big nuggets of information from the events you attended. Don’t make the mistake I always make, “Oh. I’ll remember who was giving this talk/what this talk was about/how I’m going to implement this technique.” No, document it. If you’re going to spend the time at Denver Startup Week events, make your time worthwhile.

Don’t Forget the Essentials

Startup Week can be a lot of fun, but you can’t forget the essentials in a week of networking, attending talks, and more networking.

  • What shoes are you wearing? This seems trivial, but you’ll be doing quite a bit of walking around town. Find something that is sensible and comfortable. Maybe leave those five-inch heels in the closet for this one.
  • Have you had something to eat? You’ll be out and about all day, so it’s important to schedule in some time to food up. Quite a few events have some free drinks, and you’ll not want to go into those on an empty stomach (seeing a pattern yet?).
  • How are you getting downtown? Parking is a nightmare, especially during Startup Week (also, the Rockies are in town every single day of DSW this year, which only makes things worse). Take a train, use a rideshare service, and above all, be safe.
  • Give yourself time to reflect. You’re going to have a ton of insights thrown at you all week. You’re going to meet dozens of interesting people. You’re going to start asking questions of your own organization. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to digest this information and plan how you can use it in your own organization. Good! That’s the whole point of Denver Startup Week.

See you out there!

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