Entrepreneurs Hope to Fuel Collaboration with Oil and Gas Industry

4/28/14Follow @MichaelXBD

While Colorado is gaining a reputation as a great place to launch a startup, there’s still a different industry that reigns supreme, especially in Denver: oil and natural gas.

“Oil and gas” generates $29 billion per year in the state, according to the industry’s trade association. But while many of Colorado’s most important companies are in the industry, it seems like a world unto itself, at least in regards to the burgeoning tech ecosystem.

Despite a shared location and some apparent similarities—both industries embrace risk takers willing to make big bets and rely on cutting-edge technology—people in tech and oil and gas tend not to cross each other’s paths. Now, a group of Denver entrepreneurs, oil and gas industry veterans, and state and local government officials are looking to change that.

They’re hosting a “mashup” the evening of May 7 to try and bring people from oil and gas companies and tech startups together. The event will be at Galvanize and is being sponsored by 1 Million Cups Denver, the Denver Founders Network, the Colorado Technology Association, and mayor and governor’s offices.

There are some big reasons why tech entrepreneurs should be interested in learning more about what’s going on in oil and gas, said Chris Franks, co-founder of the Denver Founders Network and one of the event’s organizers.

First, oil and gas companies rely on a lot of expensive software to control their operations, Franks said. Companies also have a lot of money to spend on new technology that solves problems, and they’re not afraid to spend it. That combination means there are existing market opportunities ready for the right startups, he believes.

At least that’s a theory that seems to make sense to outsiders. It will be put to the test at the event, when a panel of oil and gas execs discusses real-world problems they have and how they consider adopting new technology.

They’ll be questioned by a group of entrepreneurs who will try to clarify what real opportunities might exist for startups in an attempt to “cross-pollinate” the two fields, Franks said.

It feels overdue. People in the two industries don’t seem to mingle, and even arranging the event took months of outreach and a few lucky connections, Franks said.

Franks would like to change that and believes people in the industries would be natural friends given their shared mentalities.

“What I hope we’re going to find is the guys who are the entrepreneurs in the oil and gas industry, which is a good chunk of them, are very, very similar to the rest of us,” Franks said. “They’re risk takers. They like to look for market opportunities. They look for big swings, the way the next big company is going to be started. I think there are a lot of similarities.”

Franks hopes the event can crystallize an idea and catalyze a startup that could lead to something big.

“There’s this very, very unique opportunity that someone in the audience is thinking about building the technology, and they find this great market opportunity that somebody talks about and that is clarified by our tech entrepreneurs, and that they go out and they build it, and they build the next great Colorado company,” Franks said.

He acknowledged that’s hoping for a lot and might be unlikely, but there are other measures of success, like establishing “a beachhead” with the industry.

“I don’t believe necessarily that [the formation of new companies] is going to happen, although we’d all love for it to happen. At the very least, I think it’s important for us to at least have a dialogue, to start this conversation,” Franks said. “If nothing happens today, maybe some people meet and exchange business cards and something happens a year or two or three down the road.”

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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  • Peter Simmons

    Excellent work by Chris – Oil/Gas and Tech entrepreneurs think the same – we just don’t frequent the same places. Let’s break down the silos