Denver Startup Week 2023: Built by the Community, for the Community

Daniela Ibarra-Hernandez shares her experience attending Denver Startup Week’s People track sessions at the Jake Jabs Event Center.

By Daniela Ibarra-Hernandez, student marketing assistant at the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship

Denver Startup Week ( is a week-long celebration for everything entrepreneurship in Denver. The annual event series consists of hundreds of workshops, talks, competitions, and networking opportunities scattered throughout the metro area, all of which are focused on bringing people together. Sessions are categorized into one of eight tracks (Designer, Developer, Founder, Growth, Maker, People, Product, and Spotlight), but they all span all stages of a professional career, from finding a job to learning how to serve as a better leader. This year, the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship was once again a proud sponsor of Denver Startup Week and, for the first time ever, we were honored to host the People track sessions at our event center.

Being that all events were open to everyone (and free to attend!), I decided to join in on the celebration and see what Denver Startup Week has to offer for a second-year college student.

I attended the following sessions:

On Monday afternoon, Michanda Lindsey and Elizabeth Marberry’s session, titled “Let’s Get Naked: Leading with Vulnerability,” focused on the theme of “out with the old and in with the new.” It’s an outdated belief that leaders should not show vulnerability or weakness, and instead, should keep it together all the time. It leads to miscommunication and unnecessary barriers within workplace relationships. Walking into this event, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was surprised when I left feeling lighter. I was able to talk with different people and share my fears and worries as a young professional. I was also able to reach a new level of understanding—not only of myself as a student and as an employee but also as a person. It became clear that despite my knowing that leading with vulnerability is a more human way to lead, I keep many of my struggles private, which can be unfair not only to myself but also to the people I work with. The conversations I had during this session made me confident that I don’t have to have everything figured out all the time. Instead, in recognizing that opportunities to learn come at all stages of life, I can allow myself to find work environments that reflect and encourage this type of growth, authenticity, and openness.

In a Tuesday morning session with Gabriella Parante, called “I QUIT! Why Good People Leave (and How to Make Them Stay!),” she spoke about how evolving your business to meet the needs of the newest generation can be beneficial and how compensation alone isn’t satisfying potential employees anymore. Workers are still looking for work-life balance, hybrid positions, diverse representation, and healthy work environments. The effects of COVID forever changed the world, so why wouldn’t it change your business?

“As a leader, you are the person they go home and talk about at the dinner table after work,” said Parente. She shared that over 34% of employees seeking new opportunities are those who lacked healthy work environments and/or didn’t feel represented or appreciated in their jobs. Parente focused on not only the importance of preaching diversity and inclusion but also taking meaningful action on what you are promising. As a student, it made me feel hopeful that business leaders are actively looking to learn and grow as much as I am.

On Thursday, at the end of my academic week, I felt like I was running on fumes and desperately needed the weekend to feel like myself again. So, Elizabeth Burke’s session topic of “Who We Are Is Not What We Do: Work, Worth & Identity” felt particularly relevant, albeit confusing at first. How could our careers not define us? But her session helped me realize that while our career and work might reflect us as individuals, it does not make up our entire identity. Conflating the two is what can lead to burnout, why we second guess ourselves and ultimately never end up being satisfied in our professional lives, and how we can sometimes feel shame if we think that our job title doesn’t match up with our true potential. Instead, Burke talked about thinking about what your job can do for you (not the other way around), so that we all can actually enjoy work (crazy concept, I know!) and not fear the mistakes and changes that inevitably come. Burke’s speech introduced me to a new mindset and made me think about how I can seek jobs that support, not define, my professional career as well as my identity and worth.

Even though I haven’t yet started my career, I learned a lot from these three sessions and loved how they brought people together to learn and help each other become better coworkers, employees, and leaders. It was quite extraordinary to see! As a student, being a part of Denver Startup Week gave me a new perspective on Denver’s business community. It showed me that it’s forever evolving and that more businesses and organizations are now prioritizing their people and communities in bigger and better ways than ever before.

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