West Slope Startup Week

The Western Slope Startup Week has now moved to a digital format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but will still offer multiple topics and sessions for participants. 

By Mckenzie Moore

Staff Writer

After making a shift from in-person to digital, the West Slope Startup Week will now be taking place virtually during the month of July.

Mara Hardy, Business Development Manager at the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said the program is meant to both help business owners and entrepreneurs connect as well as boost local businesses. The program will encompass the entire West Slope of Colorado, from Steamboat Springs down to Durango.

“We’re trying to get really creative,” Hardy said. “Everyone’s overwhelmed by Zoom calls, so we’re emphasizing the fun and engagement piece. We’re trying to support and activate local businesses.”

Throughout the sessions, the West Slope Startup Week aims to have participants go out and support local businesses in a way that goes back to the sessions, such as purchasing coffee from a local shop to bring to virtual coffee meetups. The educational and entrepreneurial aspects are at the forefront of the program, but the social benefits are abundant as well.

“Last year, we had over 300 attendees and it’s hard to describe the magic, but once you go, you get it,” Hardy said. “Just being able to bump into entrepreneurs and business owners and leaders in your region that you would never get exposed to.”

Because of the shift to digital, the topics of discussions are now being considered from the list of original suggestions, as well as from new suggestions coming in from the currently-open call for ideas.

“We’ve pivoted and are doing a virtual event in light of COVID,” Hardy said. “We are going back to those 100 sessions that were submitted and picking those. We hope to have that done by early or mid-June, and we’ve also opened up the call for sessions.”

The Startup Week event will have virtual programming and events every Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon, July 7, 9, 14, 16, 21, 23, 28 and 30. The program will also be built upon eight “tracks” that participants can focus on, including communications, capital, tech, toolbox, people, makers, ag/food and fun.

Businesses are also encouraged to continue to submit ideas, especially surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected their operations.

“[We’re looking for] forward-looking about how businesses can adapt to this next economy where COVID is an everyday part of our lives,” Hardy said.

However, the program is for more than just business owners. Hardy also said that the term “startup” should not deter rural communities from participating, as the sessions will be about far much more than technology.

“It’s not just tech. It’s also for business owners and executives, it’s for professionals who are just looking to gain new skills,” Hardy said. “It’s free, so the barrier is really low. It’s a great way to get to connect with other folks in the region during this critical, difficult time. They can pop into a session, and if they don’t like it, they can leave and try something else.”

Startup Week, which is implemented through Techstars, is actually a global program, with highly successful sessions taking place in northern Colorado. Building off of that success, the West Slope Startup Week aims to target the different types of business owners in a more rural area of the state.

“Denver Startup is the largest week in the world, with 20,000 [attendees] last year. It’s the leading event for businesses in Denver, so ours is tailored to our rural community and way of life,” Hardy said. “Tech is a part of it, but we also have a whole track dedicated to agriculture and food and makers. We have tailored the program to the kind of communities we have.”

Without a set location, the program is now accessible to anyone who wishes to participate. Even if someone is unsure of his interest in West Slope Startup Week, he can tune into a session and explore the various tracks at no cost, making it a low-risk way to get involved.

“Now that it’s virtual, people can get a taste of what it’s like, and we’re trying to get the message out that this is for anyone who’s looking to advance their skill set or connect with someone during this isolating time,” Hardy said.

The community is encouraged to reach out with any questions, as well as submit ideas for sessions. More information can be found at westslopestartupweek.com.

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