Tech association celebrates 20 years as founder honored by Gov. Hickenlooper

The Denver Post

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Bob Newman, center, listens to friend Mark Endry talk at The Studio Loft in Denver this week. They were taking part in the Colorado Technology Association's annual APEX conference. (Brent Lewis, The Denver Post)

The Internet wasn't very wide or worldly in the early 1990s.

Bob Newman remembers flipping through telephone books to find businesses with the word software in the name. He and his friend Don McCubbrey put 400 Colorado company names into a spreadsheet, hit mail merge and sent out a survey to find out how big the state's software industry was.

Newman, then in his 40s, didn't mind the menial tasks. But he was a busy guy. The early 1990s was when the cofounder of J.D. Edwards, one of the state's largest software companies, grew his piece of the company, he said, "from a little tiny thing to over 2,000 employees."

But he wanted to give back.

"One thing we noticed was that even though there were a number of companies, they were small. Many had just three employees, or less than 10. That was a trigger. Let's help this company grow," said McCubbrey, who was at the time department chair of The Daniels College of Business of the University of Denver.

That was the genesis of the Colorado Software Association, which changed its name to the Colorado Technology Association three years ago.

The group became official in 1994. Newman welcomed 10 top software company executives to the first meeting. And it grew. And grew. Today, as the organization celebrates its 20th year, there are 15,000 members.

At CTA's annual APEX conference on Thursday, Newman was honored by Gov. John Hickenlooper in a letter proclaiming Nov. 20 as Bob C. Newman Day.

"I think we've really met the initial goals of the founding members," Newman told the crowd of nearly 900. "Nobody in the group foresaw this many people being here today. ... So where should we go from here?"

Newman, now 71, challenged the audience to invest in the future and bridge the learning gap students may not get in the classroom.

"If we could out of this group produce another 500 internships next year, I'd certainly be happy with that," he said.

CTA has developed into a major trade organization, connecting members, influencing legislation and creating opportunities. In the past year, CTA supported 35 bills in the state legislature, co-wrote three and passed two, CTA's CEO Erik Mitisek said.

Earlier this month, the city of Denver clarified a sales tax code affecting custom software developers after working with the CTA for more than four months.

In September, CTA co-sponsored Denver Startup Week, which attracted 7,800 people to 180 sessions. It launched a new foundation to encourage STEM programs in education.

But perhaps more importantly, CTA members help each other, carrying on Newman's initial mission.

"Everyone is connected to each other in ways that is meaningful," said Mike Marcotte, a CTA board member and former EchoStar executive now running his own startup consulting firm Acumen Digital. If a member asks a favor, he will listen, he said. "And CTA is a lot of that glue keeping us together."

That type of networking just wasn't around in the 1990s, said Rich Liner, a founding member and now executive director of KidsTek. The non-profit started within CTA introduces technology to underprivileged children.

"Like any startup, you don't have a track record and you're alone. It's not, 'Hey, join us and we can put you in touch with 500 companies," Liner said. "Bob (Newman) opened our eyes."

It was the type of group Bob Ogdon found comfort in after his own dot-com imploded in the tech downturn of the early 2000s.

"When you're young and just cranking to get a business off the ground, you're really focused on the business and yourself." Ogdon said. "As you mature, you realize that it would be so much more fun doing this if I was doing it with a group of people."

Ogdon helped create the original APEX convention in 2005. Called DemoGala, the eBay CEO Meg Whitman was the keynote speaker.

"It was the first big event bringing everyone together," Ogdon recalled.

Ogdon has since started another business, a digital marketing firm called SwiftPage. He hired John Oechsle, another CTA board chair, as his CEO. Earlier this week, he, Oechsle and Nancy Phillips, another CTA board member and cofounder of ViaWest, met for dinner to celebrate the sale of Phillips' company for $1.2 billion.

"What's really important is that CTA became a place where people could build relationships that were lifelong relationships," Ogdon said. "The other part of the community of CTA is a lot of hiring is done by friends. I just talked to someone who introduced me to a person who just my be my new test manager."

Tamara Chuang: 303-954-1209, tchuang@denverpost.com or twitter.com/Gadgetress