GlenX brings Silicon Valley and more to Carbondale

Justin Lewis of the Roaring Fork Technologists introduces the rules for the "hackathon," a 24-hour contest to design an app that will help the community, at a pitch event in downtown Carbondale on Friday evening.
Kyle Mills / Post Independent

On the ground floor of an empty building on the eastern end of Main Street in downtown Carbondale, nearly 40 people gathered Friday to join in an event more associated with Silicon Valley than the Roaring Fork Valley.

Fifteen people of all ages, but mostly young professionals, stood up to pitch an idea for an app. Once they pitched, each would have 24 hours to assemble a team from the talent in the room and design enough of the app to convince the judges they had an effective, clear idea that was likely to succeed and, most importantly, benefit the community.

After repast of pizza and La Croix sparkling water, Justin Lewis, co-founder of the Roaring Fork Technologists, stood up to introduce the group and the event.

“We’re a page on Facebook,” Lewis jokes. The group has around 160 members, mostly Roaring Fork Valley denizens but with some members of the greater Western Slope, who are interested in technology in some form.

“We had programmers that work for Tesla and Google, albeit remotely, in that room.” — Michael Lowe, GlenX

“We’re basically just sticking our hands out to the community, saying, ‘How can we help?’” Lewis said. The group goes to local schools to help train students, assists local businesses, and does events like the weekend’s hackathon.

Silicon meets the Fork

The hackathon at its most basic level is a time-limited contest of collaborative computer programing. They are great filler for the curriculum vitae of young tech types and regular workplace events for companies like Facebook and Google, and now local nonprofit GlenX and professional networking group the Roaring Fork Technologists have brought it to the Roaring Fork Valley.

The app ideas ranged from the surreal to the capitalist to the civic and culture-minded. One person pitched an auction app to sell a crypto currency tied to deer road kill (it’s illegal to sell car-slaughtered deer carcasses themselves).

Another person was looking for help to build a mobile commenting application for an already established magazine, and one wanted help with an app to combine food delivery, personal shopping, and ridesharing for the Roaring Fork Valley. Another app pitch sought to tackle toxic masculinity by bringing diverse people together for meetups and casual discussions.

As leader of the Roaring Fork Technologists, Justin Lewis wanted to do something more than just party to celebrate the end of the year.

Among the Technologists are around a dozen professionals who work for Fortune 1,000 companies remotely at GlenX’s shared workspace at the Third Street Center. That space will continue to be used, but GlenX is both expanding and growing into the new location on Main Street, as co-founder Michael Lowe anticipates what he calls GlenX 2.0.

“It’s exciting to have that sort of iconic Silicon Valley event come to the Roaring Fork Valley,” Lowe told the Post Independent, adding that he was impressed at the level of talent so close by.

“We had programmers that work for Tesla and Google, albeit remotely, in that room,” Lowe said.

Fostering talent through collaboration

The grand idea behind GlenX 2.0 is to further diversify the economy of the valley. Lowe wants to help grow local businesses through three main phases: ideation, incubation and acceleration. The group that started as a collaborative workspace community has grown into much more.

The hackathon is a good example of the ideation phase, where an entrepreneur can start refining a plan to create a new product and attract the talent and support he or she needs.

The GlenX accelerator has been up and running and has had more than 40 participants in the past year, and eight businesses that went through intensive process to the business strategy.

GlenX helped five of those businesses raise more than $1 million in capital, which resulted in the creation of around 40 new jobs, mostly in Carbondale. There’s a lot of excitement around becoming a successful part of this larger network of this Western Slope entrepreneurial ecosystem, Lowe said.

But it’s not just fledgling tech startups that are benefiting from GlenX. Lowe was particularly proud of helping a new restaurant, The Way Home, find its legs in Carbondale. The GlenX accelerator helped the owners develop a business strategy and raise funds through local venture capital, private investments, and Carbondale’s microloan program.

Lowe also saw success attracting an out-of-state business. Perin Industries Inc., an Iowa-based company, moved its entire marketing department here after GlenX helped raise more than half a million dollars in local capital for the company. And, after working with the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, Perin is now the primary customer for a number of local firms, Lowe said.

Other aspects of GlenX, many of the educational initiatives and educational events, will likely continue under a different brand under current leaders of the organization, as Lowe moves the group into more of a business incubator and accelerator.

New space in Carbondale

The new space on Main Street will be the center of the future of the new GlenX venture, with offices for companies and shared workspaces like the group runs at the Third Street Center.

Lowe plans to launch the new space, which GlenX will run in partnership with Tyler Moebius and the data-marketing firm FastG8, in early 2019. But already, it has a number of spots available for rent (email for information).

The participants in the weekend hackathon made use of the new office space, as well as the Third Street Center, to collaborate on designing their apps before going to Lewis’ Marble home for the final judging, awards and an end-of-year party.

The winning ideas from the hackathon app challenge include Stress Assess, a platform to assess an individual’s risk of suicide and way to provide professional help; the No-App App, which helps students log off of smartphones while in class or studying; Roaring Fork Rolodex, a centralized calendar for community events; and Roaring Art, an augmented reality program where users can decorate the town in a virtual world.

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