Craft Brewers and Hackers to Share Insights over Pints at CU Event

6/18/13Follow @MichaelXBD

There’s a set of companies in Colorado that’s spinning off one innovative startup after another. Their products and unique style are having an impact across their industries, and some of the most influential people and organizations have roots in the area. Collectively, they’ve created an ecosystem that’s studied, admired, and even envied.

No, we’re not talking about software startups. We’re talking about the Colorado craft brewers that are in the vanguard of a movement that’s revolutionizing how and what Americans drink. In the process, they’ve created an industry that generates $446 million in economic impact for the state.

Their success and history offers lessons other industries including tech can draw on, and on Thursday night, the University of Colorado’s Silicon Flatirons Center will host a discussion that brings together leaders from Colorado’s craft beer and tech scenes. The event begins at 5:15 p.m. and will include beer.

First, here’s a rough introduction for those who associate Colorado beer with the major brand so proud of its “pure Rocky Mountain spring water” and those cans that turn blue.

The triangle bounded by Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins has been lauded as “the Napa Valley of Craft Beer” by beer fans and the national media. One aspect of that is the sheer number of craft breweries opening throughout the state—the latest estimate puts it at 188 licensed breweries, with 50 more in the planning stages. They include industry heavyweights such as New Belgium and Odell in Fort Collins, Oskar Blues in Longmont, Great Divide in Denver, and Avery in Boulder, which have helped introduce new styles and new technologies to the American drinking scene.

Denver also is the proud home of the Great American Beer Festival every fall, which is the premier brewing festival in the country—and one of the biggest in the world. The Boulder-based Brewers Association runs the GABF. Oh, and Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper, made his name as a former craft brewer himself.

In Boulder, Denver, and many other places in Colorado, craft beer has become part of life.

“If we weren’t discussing this topic at CU-Boulder on a Thursday night, I suspect some significant percentage of the attendees would otherwise be at a local craft brewery,” said Brad Bernthal, Entrepreneurship Initiative Director at the University of Colorado Law School’s Silicon Flatirons Center. “We hope to capture some of that energy.”

Comparing the two scenes is a fun way to understand “economic geography,” and how a core group of startups that cooperate can create something bigger and lasting, Bernthal said.

While Boulder has been called the quintessential “Startup Community” because of its tech entrepreneurs, the name also is apt for craft brewing. Fans and employees of breweries founded in the 1990s and early 2000s have moved on to create a second and third generation of craft breweries and a lively home brewing scene.

There are other similarities.

“Information sharing and economies of specialization almost certainly benefit both scenes. And something about the Front Range seems to facilitate mutual help across companies—even competitors—in both sectors,” Bernthal said.

Colorado Brewers Guild executive director John Carlson believes tech entrepreneurs and craft brewers share common personality traits. He’ll speak at the event.

“I think there are some similarities and parallels we’ll try to draw over the course of the evening,” Carlson said. “Some craft brewers, but not all, have a technical background, but I think the creativity is the uniting factor.”

The creativity lets coders or brewers create something new or put their own twist on something that’s been developed. Hackers and home brewers also must master what can be challenging technical processes.

They also embrace trying new things and taking risks, with an ability to “see opportunities no one else sees,” Carlson said.

If the past few years have been a good time to be a tech entrepreneur in Colorado, they’ve been even better for beer aficionados.

“It’s a golden time to be a craft beer drinker in Colorado,” Carlson said.

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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