Schmoozing and boozing -- that was the scene at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House last Friday just before the ten finalists of Galvanize's [i4c] campaign, a city-specific initiative to grow socially and environmentally impactful startups through capital, community and curriculum, would be judged Shark Tank-style, with just three winning the grand prize.
Information stations on the competing companies, as well as other Galvanize affiliates, lined the walls of the lobby, dishing out information to hundred of Coloradans attending the event. Also in the mix were the five sharks: Catharine Merigold, general partner of Vista Ventures; Daniel Epstein, founder of the Unreasonable Institute; Ryan Martens of Rally Software; OtterBox President Brian Thomas and Paul Washington, executive director of Denver's Office of Economic Development. Before the final round, Washington revealed a little about what he was looking for in an [i4c] winner: "a company that's innovative, a business model that will not only produce financial returns, but also social good."
When it was finally time for the competition to start, everybody piled into the auditorium and Jim Deters, founder of Galvanize, announced the rules: five minutes for each of the ten competitors to give their pitches, and five minutes collectively for the judges to ask whatever questions they had. He then attempted to encapsulate the event in three words: "foresight," "action" and "you."
Indeed, audience participation was key, and Deters invited the crowd to raucously cheer every couple of minutes, which members did happily. He also revealed that the audience would get a chance to vote for their choice -- eventually revealed to be Waste Farmers, a sustainable agriculture company that will be included at future Galvanize events. When the sharks were finished thrashing their chum, the Made in Denver Party began outside, deejayed by Vajra, the 2011 DMC World DJ Champion, with food from Chipotle and alcohol from various sponsors. The audience got a chance to talk to all the competitors before the winners were announced.
And they were: Simple Energy, an ingenious re-imagination of the energy-saving paradigm; Dabble, an online community for teaching and learning new skills; and Pangea Organics, an organic skin-care provider. Pangea founder Joshua Scott Onysko said he was "really grateful that [Galvanize] took the time to [support] companies looking to make a difference." Quite simply, to win was "amazing."
Each of the three winning companies will get a $50,000 equity investment from the Denver [i4c] Campaign Fund. In addition, each winner is entitled to a one-year membership at the first Galvanize Community: G1.0, a 30,000 square-foot co-working community that will open its doors this October in the Golden Triangle neighborhood of Denver.
And as an indication that [i4c] efforts are not just business as usual, Paul Washington used the night as an opportunity to announce a new Denver-run, citywide business-plan competition that will launch this week. The first-place prize includes a $50,000 grant, one-year office space in the Galvanize 1.0 building, free legal consulting from Polsinelli Shughart, tax and accounting services from Deloitte, strategic marketing services from Dovetail Solutions, and social media counseling from WideFoc.us, as well as public nods from Washington and Mayor Michael Hancock anytime they speak. That winner will be announced mid-October.
More from our Business archive: "John-Paul Maxfield and Waste Farmers are growing a business based on ending waste."