New Tech Colorado’s Reich Looks Back at 7 Years of Community Building

9/10/13Follow @MichaelXBD

If you’re active in Colorado’s world of tech startups, you know New Tech Colorado and its monthly meetups in Boulder and Denver. The grassroots organization is almost 10,000 members strong, and a few hundred tech companies—ranging from Google to Backflip Studios to Techstars companies to brand-new startups—have presented at its gatherings.

You also know Robert Reich, the local serial entrepreneur who organized the first Boulder-Denver New Tech meetup. Reich remains the Boulder event’s ringmaster and is the primary organizer of New Tech Colorado.

So it’s probably hard to imagine that seven years ago, Reich was new in town and hardly knew anyone. Like any entrepreneur who has just relocated, Reich wanted to build his personal network and get a sense of what was going on around him.

“I was here for less than 30 days,” Reich said. “I was trying to find the best way to reach the local community, so I thought, ‘Let’s start something, let’s be an entrepreneur,’ so I started New Tech.”

Reich’s informal get-together has become one of the leading institutions in Colorado’s burgeoning tech scene. Not bad for someone who describes himself as “a fairly shy person” who wanted to avoid the stress of typical networking events.

While the first events had a handful of regular attendees, the meetups grew and became one of the best ways to connect with people, find jobs or employees, and learn about the newest companies.

“It was really to meet like minded people like myself, and it quickly evolved from there as a way to not just meet people but to find out what everybody was doing,” Reich said.

Needless to say, forming an organization that will host the governor on Sept. 19 at the 1,870-seat Paramount Theater in Denver wasn’t in Reich’s plan. The event, which is part of Denver Startup Week, is a special edition of the Denver meetup and will celebrate New Tech Colorado’s 10,000th member.

Neither was spinning off meetups in Denver, Fort Collins, and possibly Colorado Springs.

“I’m shocked. When I started, I had no idea it would continue this long, nor did I anticipate we’d be in multiple cities,” Reich said. “It’s become a resource not just for Boulder, but for the state now.”

Staying true to the grassroots

We’ll talk more about Reich’s future goals for New Tech Colorado tomorrow. But despite its growth and several recent new directions, the goal remains the same—create a community, get people talking, and help entrepreneurs build their startups.

“It’s been fun to help those companies navigate into the community and providing a place for them,” Reich said.

Sometimes the help can be in the form of tough love from the audience. The Boulder meetups take place at the University of Colorado Law School, and sometimes entrepreneurs must feel like they’re getting grilled on the witness stand. The crowds aren’t hostile, but they ask tough questions about business models and revenue streams that startups might not be ready to answer.

The best presenters go into depth about their companies, Reich said. One of his favorite examples is Backflip Studio’s co-founder and CEO Julian Farrior’s presentation. Farrior outlined his company’s method of distributing its games and building a fan base. The plan helped make Backflip, the creator of DragonVale, one of the leading developers of mobile games and successful enough to lead Hasbro to buy a 70 percent stake in it for $112 million.

Presenters “are sharing information, and it’s usually not information you’d expect them to share,” Reich said.

The meetups also host experts, like a securities lawyer who discussed the ins and outs of crowdfunding.

A few years ago, Reich took the show down the road to Denver. The Denver version has grown in size to rival the original, and a meetup in Fort Collins also is gaining traction.

Reich has since passed organizational duties for the Denver event to Andrei Taraschuk. The meetup is developing its own flavor, but the vision remains the same.

The starting point is always entrepreneurs and technology, but the hosts try to keep things accessible for everyone.

“We are focused on tech startups but we try to make our meetings interesting to everyone in the startup ecosystem, in other words you don’t have to be a tech-geek to enjoy the meetup. This format attracts a diverse audience and keeps things interesting for everyone,” Taraschuk wrote in an e-mail.

“The meetup has grown from less than 20 monthly attendees to more than 200 and at times we’ve seen as many as 300 attendees. We’ve outgrown two of our previous locations and are now enjoying a larger space at Galvanize. If the current trend continues we might have to look for a larger venue once again,” Taraschuk said.

Check back here tomorrow for part two of this story, which is on New Tech’s new additions and future plans.

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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