Ignite event celebrates ‘healthy chaos’

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The local entrepreneurial community has achieved what I believe is a “healthy chaos” of activities, networking events and startups. Over the past year we’ve seen a lot of new initiatives that piggyback on best practices of other leading entrepreneurial communities.

In February the El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization (EPIIC) and Peak Venture Group (PVG) collaborated for a “shark tank”-like event that drew a large, energized crowd. PVG’s monthly Pitch Night connects entrepreneurs, investors, students and others. Startup Weekend, under the leadership of Startup Colorado Springs, brings an international movement into our midst. The Colorado Springs Technology Incubator has actively organized panels and speakers on entrepreneurial topics.

And now I take this opportunity to introduce a new initiative, coordinated by EPIIC and the Colorado Springs Business Journal, called Ignite Colorado Springs.

Ignite events take place in cities around the world. The basic format is centered in the philosophy of healthy chaos. Ignite events generally feature 10 to 15 speakers on a wide range of topics. Each speaker is limited to five minutes. To make it more exciting — and chaotic — each speaker has 20 PowerPoint slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds. No long-winded speeches allowed. If you are giving an Ignite talk, you must get to the point.

The term “healthy chaos” refers to the proliferation of activities around a theme or focus. In the local entrepreneurial community, the theme, of course, is entrepreneurship and startups. The healthy chaos we are achieving locally sometimes also is referred to as “entrepreneurial density,” just a fancy way of saying there’s lots of stuff going on and some of it is likely to stick, although we don’t know which initiative has staying power.

“Healthy” refers to this diversity of initiatives in the face of an unpredictable future. In a sense, the local emergence of healthy chaos parallels the launch of a new startup.

A currently popular view of the entrepreneurial startup is called the “lean startup,” based on growing experience with technology ventures that can launch with exceedingly small upfront investment. The goal of the lean startup is to rapidly develop a minimally viable product and hit the market.

Authors Steve Blank and Bob Dorf have extended the lean startup perspective to highlight the fundamental difference between a startup and an established venture. In their view, startup entrepreneurs must focus their time and energy on searching for a scalable, repeatable business model.

Once a successful business model is discovered, the startup must transition from searching for a business model to executing the business model. The search process is necessarily chaotic.

From the limited perspective of my academic perch, it seems that our local entrepreneurial community is in such a chaotic search phase. During this phase, we should welcome and support every initiative focused on enhancing the local startup community. We also should be willing to let each of these initiatives find its own business model and equilibrium.

Those that find a repeatable, scalable model will persist and maybe thrive. Those that don’t will drift away. That’s healthy. No doubt many of the current initiatives will expand and be an important part of a maturing local entrepreneurial business model.

We decided to organize the Ignite Colorado Springs event for two reasons: One is to play a role in the healthy chaos that has emerged in our entrepreneurial community. The other is to celebrate that community by focusing on it in our inaugural Ignite event.

We’ve invited leaders from many local entrepreneurial initiatives to be presenters at the April 30 event. We thought it would be great to bring all these initiatives together under the same tent for one energizing night of fun talks, networking and connecting.

We hope that Ignite Colorado Springs thrives — that certainly is our intent. The goal is to have at least two events per year and be as inclusive as possible of all the great things going on in our community.

Please join us for a night of healthy chaos on April 30. To register, or for more information, see www.ignitecoloradosprings.org.

Tom Duening, who has founded seven companies, is El Pomar Chair of Business and Entrepreneurship as well as director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.