At the end of a narrow alley outside of the Denver Startup Week’s Signal-to-Noise event stood a strange structure. Thin white material stretched over a cube-shaped frame — underneath sat a jumble of cords and projectors. Despite the revelrous sounds drifting from the Spire Digital afterparty next-door, the men of Alt Ethos couldn’t be distracted.
They crowded around a computer under an adjoining shade tent. It was 6 p.m.: time to create an experience.
Ethan Bach, Eric Davis, Paul Elsberg, Zac Layman, Matt Maes and Mike Sperandeo are the six co-founders of Alt Ethos and the Denver Arts + Technology Advancement. Alt Ethos is the for-profit arm of their operation: an experiential design startup based in Denver. Denver Arts + Technology Advancement Center, or DATA for short, is their nonprofit venture. Together they are programmers, developers, designers, engineers, artists and long-time friends.
“I’ve been a video and media artist for twenty or so years, but the institutions where I was working didn’t have the same vision for what I wanted to do.” CEO and co-founder Ethan Bach said. “I decided that I needed to do it all on my own, to do the whole thing from scratch.”
Alt Ethos is a design house geared toward mixing art and cutting edge technology. The company creates experiences designed to connect the spaces of potential clients with a memory and a feeling.
And by spaces, they mean literal spaces.
Hotel lobbies, museums, sides of buildings, even shared workspaces — like the Commons on Champa, where Alt Ethos sometimes works — could be transformed into interactive art installations.
“We rapidly develop a product that engages the user base to make them rethink your company,” said Paul Elsberg, chief of sales at Alt Ethos.
Having just launched during Denver Startup Week, Alt Ethos is still an early-stage startup. The $15,000-$17,000 they’ve collected in capital has been put toward investment in technological infrastructure, but they are ready to recruit clients. The founders envision a clientele of hotels, museums bars, restaurants, venues and retail spaces. Using a mix of augmented reality, virtual reality and projection mapping, they hope to create brand-specific, intelligent designs that learn and change with human interaction.
“We [currently] have a passive relationship with technology versus an active relationship,” Elsberg said. “We want to create a transparency within these systems that allows people to learn more about themselves as they engage.”
The aforementioned cube is their first installation as Alt Ethos. They debuted the structure at SantaSe Fest in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but Wednesday night of Startup Week was its first time in Denver.
Alt Ethos’ cube wasn’t just a computer-stuffed husk.
Once darkness fell at the Signal-to-Noise afterparty, the installation came to life. Bright, kaleidoscopic patterns danced unpredictably across the material. A small crowd gathered to watch — and to touch.
The lights reacted to engagement. At the start of the night, a small teal beacon would appear and follow participants’ hands as they pressed into the faces of the cube. By the end, the program seemed to have evolved. The beacon would grow when two hands were applied. The overriding pattern began to react to touch, as well.
The cube is just one example of the types of experiences Alt Ethos hopes to create — to push boundaries with technology and art.
Exhibits like this will be made for more than profit.
Alt Ethos plans to donate 10 percent of all earnings to DATA Center, the nonprofit that Bach emphasized is an equally important part of the business plan.
Denver Arts + Technology Advancement is designed to improve access to cutting edge technology training, via lectures, workshops and artist residencies, for those who may not otherwise be able to afford them.
“We want to offer empowerment for creative activity,” Davis said. “One of the biggest problems is that there are so many brilliant minds out there that don’t have the opportunities in this field.”
Their business model resembles that of la Societe des Artes et Technologies in Montreal — a nonprofit education and research institution with a heavy emphasis on the immersive technologies that occupy the intersection of art, science and technology.
Within five years, the group hopes to realize their vision of a 20,000 to 30,000 square foot, brick and mortar facility where they can offer kindergarten through 12th grade (and some adult) classes on improving technological literacy.
And they think Denver is the perfect place.
“Out of three million people you have a million millennials, which means they are all digital natives,” Bach said. “This stuff is not foreign to them and they are not going to be afraid of it.”
Davis mentioned the resources available to startups in Denver. Alt Ethos works extensively with the Small Business Development Center and takes advantage of space and resources at the Commons on Champa.
But more broadly, the group says Denver’s unique mix of art and tech is what makes it so ideal.
“A lot of people haven’t noticed how great the art is in Denver, on a national level or an international level,” Bach said. “They still pit it as a midwestern sort of place but there’s that room for it to grow. That and the tech industry — put it all together and you have the perfect storm.”
Alt Ethos officially launched their website and company during Denver Startup Week. They are in the midst of planning a marketing campaign to recruit new clients, as well as a guerilla marketing campaign to give spontaneous art to Denver.
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