Clifton Oertli, 32, started his own programming and web development business when he was in high school. His business involved buying and selling items on eBay. Today, he owns two businesses in metro Denver: Resolute Brewing Co. andNEI Electric Power Engineering Inc.
Beck Halbeisen and Vincent Rowe, both 18, recently started an app-based business. The app, Leave No Car Behind, is an Uber-like ride program that will not only take someone home, but will also get their car home. The app is made to get drunken drivers off the road.
Oertli, Halbeisen and Rowe are among those taking advantage of a strong climate for young entrepreneurs in the Denver metro area.
In 2016, Denver was ranked by NerdWallet.com, a website that focuses on personal finance,as the fourth best city in the country for young entrepreneurs. Researchers weighed multiple factors, with Denver ranking high because of an educated population, a strong economy and a high rate of loan guarantees by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Denver also was ranked by Forbes magazine in 2016 as the best place in the nation for businesses and careers.The magazine pointed to Denver’s ability to provide a good “work-life balance,” something that millennials value most in their careers, according to the article.
Madhavan Parthasarathy is the director of the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Denver. He has noticed a shift of millennial interest in entrepreneurship, stating that it is “growing tremendously.”
Parthasarathy said an entrepreneur is largely defined by the mindset he or she possesses.
“An entrepreneur is someone who has a certain level of passion and a mindset that is curious enough to actually learn new things, be willing and open to different types of jobs and functions and able to actually take risks,” he said.
And, he believes, there is a specific set of skills an entrepreneur must possess. Among the skills are sharp thinking and the ability to make quick decisions.
An entrepreneur, he said, is someone willing to “do marketing, run finance, sweep the floors and do whatever is required to run the business.”
Entrepreneur from the start
After hawking items on eBay, Oertli moved into a new project in college and joined a web startup company where he developed websites for the next five years.
Oertli, a Littleton resident, graduated with an engineering degree and decided to pursue a path in engineering. He worked at NEI Electric Power Engineering Inc. in Wheat Ridge for five years before purchasing it along with four co-workers.
Just two years ago, Oertli decided to add something new and different to the mix by opening Resolute in Centennial with three other owners.
Running an engineering firm and a brewing company concurrently requires different mindsets, Oertli said.
“It is a big shift going from managing introvert engineers to managing extrovert creative types in the brewery,” Oertli said.
And people, Oertli knows, are the most important part of entrepreneurship.
“It is more about your team than it is about anything else,” Oertli said. “The market, the product — everything else is secondary to the team.”
The secret to a good team, Oertli has found, is diversity of both opinion and personality types.
“If you have your entire team comprised of people with the same personality type, they are all going to approach a problem with the same mindset,” Oertli said. “A different thought process might help you see a problem from a different perspective that one personality type might not see it from.”
Oertli’s people-focused drive is aimed to empower and encourage his team. Details of business are secondary.
“A lot of your problems will be solved by your team,” Oertli said. “Give them the right tools and give them the motivation to work hard.”
Oertli knew all his partners for years before going into business with them. Some he knew when he was 14.
Oertli defines entrepreneurship as creating a career that an individual is passionate about.
“To me, it has always meant that I get to make my vocation what it is that I enjoy doing,” Oertli said. “I can structure my career, my day and my teams around what I want to be doing every day.”
Big challenges, new solutions
Halbeisen, a senior at Standley Lake High School in Westminster, and Rowe, a senior at Pomona High School in Arvada, are going to Metropolitan State University next year and hope to eventually go to the University of Colorado-Boulder to study business.
“Being an entrepreneur has been a goal,” Halbeisen said. “I didn’t think it would happen this early, but we are both fortunate for this to happen.”
In starting their business, Halbeisen and Rowe agreed that there needed to be a way to get drunken drivers off the road.
“We want the roads to be safer at night,” Rowe said. “The main reason that people justify drunk driving is so that they can get their car home.”
The app the teens created to solve the problem works by having two people arrive, one to drive the individual home and the other to drive their car home. The service, currently running in Denver and Santa Fe, New Mexico, has a base cost of $30 and adds an extra $2.10 for every mile driven.
Both Halbeisen’s and Rowe’s families have been affected by drunken driving.
Halbeisen’s grandfather, who was a state patrol officer, almost died in an accident involving a drunken driver, he said. After pulling a driver over one evening, a drunken driver drove off the road and pinned his grandfather against the other car.
Rowe said his cousin was a passenger in a vehicle and died in a drunken driving accident in 2016.
Halbeisen’s father, an app developer, gave the teens the necessary resources to create the app, which launched in March.
Starting this month and continuing into the summer, new cities are being added to the app: Des Moines, Iowa; Phoenix; Philadelphia; New York; and Dallas.
The two are exploring other ways to market their services, focusing on helping patients from a hospital get a ride home after a procedure.
Halbeisen and Rowe have been part of the driving team for their budding business. They said that even though they get calls at 3 a.m. on weeknights, it will be worth it in the long run.
“We want to take this as far as we can,” Rowe said.
They have already learned lessons about starting a business.
“You have to give it your all,” Halbeisen said. “You can’t expect things to happen, you have to go out and work for it.”