Colorado Ski Country Tries to Tap Into Entrepreneurial Talent Base

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and adventurous and willing to take risks,” he said.

While they’re busy running their own businesses, they also seem willing to help and offer their services as mentors. Members of that community around Breckenridge were eager to step up and help Startup Weekend, as was the more established business community. Colorado Mountain College and the Northwest Colorado Small Business Development Center are hosting and sponsoring the event, while the list of mentors, judges, and coaches is filled with entrepreneurs.

“I have been floored by the support….We had this thing approved and ready to go in three days,” Fisher said. He was surprised by the pent-up demand and sense that it was time to try to catalyze a startup scene.

“There are people who wanted to do it [start events for entrepreneurs], but no one had stepped up to do it,” he said.

The same willingness to help was on display in Telluride, a resort town about six hours from Denver, said Jesse Johnson, co-founder and CEO of the Telluride Venture Accelerator. His organization graduated its first class in 2013 and originally had about 10 mentors, but that quickly grew to more than 70.

Johnson found that while the group tended to be transplants, they’d developed a love for Telluride and wanted to give back to the community. Some contributed to local nonprofits or civic organizations, but no one had yet reached out to them for their business acumen, until the accelerator came along.

“They’re successful entrepreneurs or investors who decided to make Telluride part of their lives. They were a huge untapped resource,” Johnson said.

Getting Traction

Of the three communities, Telluride might be the farthest along in its efforts. Its accelerator graduated its first four companies last year, and the companies collectively have raised about $1 million, Johnson said.

Johnson said the program is modeled after Boulder-based Techstars, and like Techstars it offers its services, seed capital, and perks in exchange for equity. In Telluride’s case, that was $25,000 in exchange for a 4 percent stake in a startup.

The Telluride Venture Accelerator tried to play to its community’s strengths by choosing companies in markets where it had strong mentors, Johnson said. That meant outdoor products, tourism and recreation, and natural and organic foods. It also set up a $2 million seed fund. But even with that, the organizers didn’t feel they would have a sure thing.

“It was a bit of a leap of faith,” Johnson said. “At every turn, we rolled the dice.”

This year, 75 companies applied to be part of the second class, … Next Page »

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