/ Entrepreneurship

There’s Something Happening in Ogden

What matters is the community. Just being able to build that out. Meeting new people. Building new relationships.

The City of Ogden, Utah, has been on a roll lately. Last year they ranked No. 6 on Forbes’ list of the best places for business and careers; then they received a $1 million grant from the federal government to help build a state-of-the-art co-working space to help nurture and sustain startup and entrepreneurial growth; and just this past weekend they held a Grand Opening for that new building, and broke it in by holding a Startup Weekend event that began last Thursday evening and wrapped up late Saturday night.

When Startup Weekend founder, Andrew Hyde, addressed all of the entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts on the first night of the three-day event, he stressed the importance of building strong startup communities and lasting personal relationships. A number of attendees seemed to take Hyde’s words to heart.

“It’s all about the community,” said Jesse Harris, a Utah entrepreneur who attended the event. “You can’t be so focused on your own success that you don’t try to help other people achieve their potential. The point of [Startup Weekend Ogden] is to make valuable connections, so that when — not if — you fail, you’ll be able to go to others and ask for their advice, and see if they can help diagnose what you did wrong and help you improve.”

Throughout the weekend one didn’t need to look far to witness exactly what Harris was talking about. Nearly everyone who attended the event seemed just as concerned about solving the problems of others as they did about working through their own.

Any entrepreneur who’s ever struggled to find a solution on their own, or in a bubble, understands how vitally important and liberating it is to be able to seek the advice and counsel of someone who can look at an issue from a different perspective, void of any preconceived notions. That type of environment can change the trajectory of a startup. If you can get a group of entrepreneurs all in one place, who are willing to leave their egos at the door, who are willing to concede that they don’t have all the answers, you’ve created a very potent startup atmosphere.

“The idea behind this event is to build teams with people you don’t know,” said Darin (Doc) Berntson, the owner of a Utah-based inbound marketing agency, who also attended Startup Weekend Ogden. “What matters is the community. Just being able to build that out. Meeting new people. Building new relationships.”

Community. The word of the weekend. To be at an event where the attendees are as excited as the organizers about promoting a strong community is quite remarkable. We talked to a lot of people about their experience at Startup Weekend Ogden, and while they each had their own perspective on the event, the one word that kept coming up was community.

In his book, “Startup Communities,” Brad Feld writes about the entrepreneurial ecosystem Hyde helped to build in Boulder, CO. Feld believes Boulder’s success can be mirrored by communities throughout the world if they’re able to abide by four key principles.

1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.

2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.

3. The startup community must be inclusive.

4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.

One of the driving forces behind Ogden’s entrepreneurial community is the founder of StartupFlavor, Alex Lawrence. Lawrence took to Twitter the day before the new $3.5 million co-working space in Downtown Ogden was set to open and wrote, “Tomorrow is the Grand Opening of the most important thing I’ve ever worked on in my career.”

The new building had a lot of people talking.

“I loved the space,” said Ian Hansen, a Pleasant Grove developer who attended Startup Weekend Ogden. “Even though I live in Pleasant Grove, I love seeing what is already active and happening within the Ogden startup community. I want to take the FrontRunner up as often as possible and be a part of what they have going on up there.”

“Loved the new building,” said Cole Lehman, a Utah copywriter and yoga teacher who attended Startup Weekend Ogden. “I’m a sucker for wood floors and hundred-year-old brick. The restoration was beautiful, and you could tell a lot of love and effort went into the space.”

A number of Startup Weekend Ogden attendees had never been to a Startup Weekend event.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Mikaela Shafer, the founder of IndieOgdenUtah.com. “It was a lot cooler than I thought it would be. I met a lot of amazing people. I think the best part was forging friendships. I’m excited to see where those friendships go.”

Startup Weekend Ogden even managed to get curious entrepreneurs from out of state to attend the event.

“This event was a highlight for me. I met some great people, learned a bit, and had a great time,” said Justin Johnson, a San Francisco developer and co-founder of Late Labs. “I wish all of the events I go to had the same excitement, but one of the coolest parts was that almost everyone I met was curious and there to learn. I think my biggest take away is that I’ll be back to Utah for more events like this soon.”

A number of Utah County — or even Salt Lake City — entrepreneurs may not realize what’s happening up north. In the past, fair or unfair, Ogden has been perceived as the crime capital of Utah. Consider this report from Neighborhood Scout:

With a crime rate of 58 per one thousand residents, Ogden has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes — from the smallest towns to the very largest cities. Within Utah, more than 97% of the communities have a lower crime rate than Ogden.

If you attended Startup Weekend Ogden, then read the above report for the first time, you would be shocked to learn it was describing a city you just stayed in for three days. And that’s a good thing. It means the perception of Ogden is changing for the better, thanks, in no small part, to the startup and business leaders within the community.

Entrepreneurs throughout the State of Utah should keep their eye on Ogden. There’s something happening up there.

Published 11/27/2013