By Rachel Nobles
The Commons on Champa is turning one, and they have made incredible progress in their first year. With a vision of inclusivity, collaboration, and innovation, The Commons has assisted entrepreneurs and startups, reaching far beyond than the borders of Colorado.
Since opening in May, 2015, The Commons’ goal was to create an accessible resource to help entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. “Regardless of who you are, where you come from, what your background is, there is a place for you at The Commons. You have access to high-quality resources and a community that helps lift you up and advance whatever you’re doing,” said Kate Barton, Senior Manager of the Executive Office and Special Projects at the Downtown Denver Partnership. “In our city, there are a lot of places where, if you fit a certain mold, there is a place for you, but we want this to be a place for everyone. That was the vision. Part of The Commons is this feeling that we’ll always be your home. If you make it, you can go up, and if you ever need us, we’ll be here.”
Based on this vision, the three founding partners, The Colorado Technology Association (CTA), the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP), and The City of Denver, began construction on a campus for entrepreneurship in 2014, and a devoted community aided the process. “It was a city-owned building, and we took out about 28 offices on the first floor. We completely demolished everything and started over with the vision of creating a public park for entrepreneurs to gather, collaborate, and learn,” said Barton.
“Paul Washington from the CTA was a visionary partner in helping bring the center to life and ensuring its success,” said CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, Tami Door.
With the help of donations and volunteers, the space was built in nine months. “It was a good old fashioned barn raising. We fundraised $2,500,000,” said Barton. “People donated their time, their resources, and everything from furniture, to paint, to flooring was donated or discounted. Thirty-nine companies helped build the space.”
Since opening its doors, The Commons has allowed entrepreneurs unprecedented access to amenities at little to no cost. By providing its clientele with resources such as a public workspace, conference rooms, counseling, and other programs and events, the space appeals to entrepreneurs nationally, which benefits those here in Denver. “With innovation comes capital and investment into our center city, which is really key to how [the Downtown Denver Partnership], build and grow a vital downtown,” said Barton. “It’s also an economic-development driver. If you can help build and grow small business, there is enormous economic impact on the city.”
Within its first year, the space has had over 17,000 attendees at its various events and programs. It has drawn national attention, evidenced by the countless speakers having presented at The Commons, including three White House Secretaries.
Its success is no surprise, but for those involved in the project, it’s only the beginning. Looking towards their second year, The Commons hopes to extend their reach even farther. “In our first year, I think we’ve done a remarkable job of creating a brand for ourselves,” said Barton. “This was truly a startup that was backed by really great partners, and I think in year two, it’s about telling our story and having people understand that this is unlike anything else in the country. No one has ever done this, so we’re really forging our own path, and people have noticed. There’s the bucket of coworking spaces, there’s the bucket of event centers, there’s the bucket of resource centers, and we’re really merging all of those in a unique way. We want people to understand that on a local scale and then on a national scale.”
Door added, “The Commons was a project built by the community, for the community, and for the future of the community. We really encourage everyone to consider the gift they can bring toward our growing entrepreneurial community, and for those who are inspired to start a company, or are in the early stages, we encourage them to come so we can support their efforts.”
Behind the Scenes of the OED
For those looking to start or grow a business, advisory hours on the second floor of the Commons on Champa are a good place to start. The Denver Office of Economic Development (OED) has partnered with The Commons to provide support and advice for small business owners and startups. Free of charge, OED representatives offer counseling, and in turn, entrepreneurs can gain an understanding of any aspect of running a business.
“It’s really fun for entrepreneurs to be able to talk to all these different groups and learn about all these different resources,” said Amy Wofford, Programs Manager of The Commons. “It’s a hidden gem. When I tell people that there’s this free resource available daily, their minds are blown.”
Counseling at no cost offers major advantages for the entrepreneurial community. “We’re able to do more as a community through the efforts of many like minded organizations,” said Carrie Singer, Business Development Representative at the OED. “It’s good for business, for the community, for employees and job creation, and we all want to see small business owners grow and be successful. We’re here to help.”
Not only do advisory hours benefit entrepreneurs; they improve the entire city. “For economic development and innovation to happen in a city, the public and private sectors have to work together. Being able to have a true resource center that supports entrepreneurship with the public, private, and the city all working together in one space, we hope to see a lot of advanced economic development happening in Denver,” said Wofford.
In addition to advisory hours and the many other services the OED provides, they also contribute opportunities and events for successful professionals to connect and donate to nonprofit organizations. “Let’s say I’ve launched and started a business in Denver, I’m successful, I have 25+ employees, and life is good. Now, we want to give back,” said Singer. “It’s an opportunity for these professionals to interface with nonprofits who range in missions from the animal shelter, to the homeless shelter, to educational organizations serving at-risk youth… That is something the OED is really proud of. Certainly we’re all about business and bringing jobs to the community, but we’re also about ‘what can we do as a community to make this a better city?’ Supporting our nonprofits is front-and-center.”
To connect with business-development representatives from the OED or to schedule advisory hours, you can access their online portal through The Commons or the OED websites, https://thecommons.co or https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/denver-office-of-economic-development.html.