Virtually the same: Startup week returns with online sessions

Phil Castle, The Business Times

While there’s nothing quite like being in the same room, the organizers of an event promoting entrepreneurial endeavors in Western Colorado believe they’ve come up with virtually the same thing.

What’s more, there are advantages in offering a month of free online programming. There’s no time or expense involved with travel. Participants pick and choose the sessions in which they’d like to join. And those who might have been reluctant to ask a question or make a point in front of others can now do so from the comfort of their offices or homes.

“There’s no risk,” says Mara Hardy, business development manager for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

Bryan Wachs — chief executive officer of, an internet marketing company based in Grand Junction — put it this way: “There are zero barriers right now.”

Hardy and Wachs are among the organizers of Techstars Startup Week West Slope. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, what’s usually a week-long event in Grand Junction was changed to a virtual event that will be offered through July.

A total of more than 60 presentations, panel discussions and other events are planned for Tuesdays and Thursdays July 7 to 30. There’s no charge for the sessions or deadline to register.

Wachs expects the virtual format to attract more participants. While 300 people attended last year, participation could double or triple this year.

Techstars Startup Week West Slope is designed to share knowledge and expertise about starting and growing businesses while also building connections in the region.

While the event will include information for tech firms and startups, it’s not just about tech or startups, Wachs says. Sessions will offer something for everyone from the executives of larger companies to the proprietors of small businesses and their employees.

Hardy says sessions are grouped into eight tracks related to such topics as agriculture and food, capital, communications and technology. A people track will offer information about developing leaders, building teams and fostering engagement. A makers track will focus on those making things — either with their hands or in operating high-tech equipment. What are billed as “toolbox” workshops will address fundamental topics and skills building.

There’s also a fun track that will include book club meetings, podcasts and a yoga class.

U.S. Bank, title sponsor of Techstars Startup Week West Slope, has scheduled sessions on equipment financing, U.S. Small Business Administration lending, economic conditions and planning.

Four headline events are planned, including presentations by Aaron DeRose, general manager of WBS Coatings in Grand Junction; David Brown, founder and CEO of Techstars and Brad Feld, managing director of the Foundry Group; and Matt Vincent, co-owner of Ska Brewing and founder of Ska Fabricating.

An event with a surprise speaker also is planned, Hardy says.

From noon to 2 p.m. July 30, 10 finalists will compete in the Greater Colorado Pitch Event for $250,000 in investments and $10,000 in in-kind awards. Applications will be accepted until June 30 from companies located in rural Colorado. For more information, visit the website located at,

Hardy says sessions at Techstars Startup Week West Slope were selected from among more than 100 submissions. Given the effects of the pandemic on business operations in the region, most of the sessions will touch on that to some degree, she says.

While the virtual format won’t allow startup week participants to meet and network in person in Grand Junction, they can still pose questions and make comments, she says. Moreover, smaller gatherings are planned in some locations for some of the sessions.

Even with a virtual format, Wachs says he expects the sessions to evoke a feeling of camaraderie among the participants. “You’re walking into a virtual room of your tribe.”

Wachs says the goal of startup week is to provide resources to help start and grow businesses in the region and diversify the economy beyond agriculture and energy sectors susceptible to market cycles. “We’re diversifying the economy for the good of all.”

Computer technology and internet access makes it possible for entrepreneurs to open or relocate operations to Western Colorado and take advantage of a region that offers more affordability and a more attractive lifestyle, he says. “It’s a pretty unique thing. Wake up and realize that’s possible.”

Wachs’ firm, for example, operates an on-demand internet marketing platform that helps clients complete marketing tasks without the overhead, vetting or turnover associated with hiring staff or outsourcing services.

The Grand Junction Economic Partnership, an organization that provides resources to companies locating or expanding operations in Mesa County, helps organize startup week and provides logistical support, Hardy says. “I’m a cat herder.”

Wachs praises Hardy for that effort. “She herds cats like you can’t believe.”

For more information about Techstars Startup Week West Slope, log on to the website located at