New Program Aims to Jump-start Innovative Entrepreneurship
TELLURIDE – Imagine three talented entrepreneurs with high-growth business ideas spending six months every year in Telluride turning those ideas into business realities.
Now imagine a support system offering those entrepreneurs each $30,000, support from experienced advisers and donated office space, all of it focused on one question: “Can you do good and make money at the same time?”
That’s the question Telluride Foundation CEO/President Paul Major asked of the crowd of about 50 gathered in the Telluride Fire District conference room, on Thursday, Oct. 4, to hear about the Telluride Venture Accelerator, launching a nationwide competition this month to find its first three takers.
Major and foundation board member Jesse Johnson, director of the foundation-spawned TVA, spent 90 minutes discussing TVA – and its upcoming competition (with a Nov. 15 application deadline) – for the 2013 winners, after a power-point presentation that began by reminding viewers that the Telluride economy “has contracted, and is overly reliant upon tourism and housing starts/sales.”
Winners of this year’s competition – in exchange for using Telluride as home base for six months, through July, 2013, while getting their businesses off the ground – will receive the $30,000 “business “catalyst,” free Mountain Village office space and the services of an “angel network” of experienced entrepreneurs, analysts and investors.
That network, Major emphasized, has come together determined to develop compelling business opportunities in a tiny town that has, over the centuries, made business history.
A LONG HISTORY OF INNOVATION
“The Telluride region has a rich history of innovation, invention and reinvention,” Major observed, from the 1891 collaboration between L.L. Nunn, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse that “forever changed the delivery of energy” to the centuries-spanning “mining era that transformed the region into an economic engine” to Telluride’s most recent reinvention of itself as a world-class skiing and tourism destination.
TVA’s do-gooder portion is two-pronged: First, it “seeks to usher in yet another period of innovation and reinvention by helping Telluride to thrive economically and create new jobs and startup businesses locally,” according to the organization’s initial press release. Second, TVA will retain an equity investment in the companies it nurtures, with any revenues it receives dedicated to helping to fund subsequent competitions and business developments in years to come.
Startup businesses supported by the TVA, Johnson said, might operate in the outdoors, lifestyle and recreation sectors; in natural or organic food and beverages; and in health and healthy living and tourism.
Applicants will answer two questions – “How do you grow a business and make money, and how do you see your business in five years?” They will also be asked to create “a two-minute business presentation for YouTube, and to deliver a formal pitch of their business idea.
“Ideally, said Johnson, the goal is “to make Telluride an easy place to start and grow a business.”
‘AN ECOSYSTEM OF ENTREPRENEURS’
TVA funding so far has come thanks to a $25,000 boost from the foundation and another $75,000 from an unnamed investor (grant requests are pending with state and entrepreneurially oriented foundations, as well).
By jump-starting innovative businesses focused predominantly on healthy lifestyles, TVA hopes, said Major, “to nurture an ecosystem of entrepreneurs.”
And because “the very nature of building an ecosystem is to be inclusive,” he said, “this whole process is about bringing everyone and anyone to the table who wants to come.”
To that end, “TVA will be inviting applicants from across the country.”
Although organizers are looking for “businesses that have the most potential for staying here for a few years” and that “target a national market,” no promises are required keep the startup businesses Telluride-based.
Major and Johnson cite businesses like the Jackson Hole-based Teton Gravity Research, founded in 1996 and now one of the fastest growing brands in the action sports industry, and the now-omnipresent Croakies eyewear leash based on a Chinese finger trap developed in 1977 by a Jackson Hole ski patroller, as models for the kinds of businesses TVA will help to create. They mentioned as well Strava, the San Francisco-based producer of popular “social fitness devices” including GPS and ride-mapping for cyclists that its creators say grew “out of our own needs as athletes,” and the Telluride Brewing Co., the fast-growing locally spawned two-year-old business now expanding its distribution to beyond the Front Range, as examples of the kinds of businesses they hope to nurture.
Models for TVA itself range from the well-established Global Accelerator Network, a program offering professional development, networking opportunities, training, consulting and ongoing support to its members, to Boulder’s Techstar venture-startup accelerator program which led Boulder to be named, according to the GAN website, “‘America’s Best Town for Startups’ by Businessweek in 2010, pointing to the ‘bottom-up revolution’ led by local investors and entrepreneurs alike.”
An important component of what TVA will offer its three entrepreneurs, Major said, is state-of-the-art computer-modeling, thanks to a collaboration starting up with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a five-hour drive away.
“Los Alamos does the most complex modeling on the planet,” Major said of the northern New Mexico campus begun in the waning days of World War II to develop the world’s first atomic bombs (using uranium and vanadium from San Miguel County), of everything from “drought to nuclear explosions.” Of that modeling expertise, he said, Los Alamos scientists “are very interested in getting this out of the lab and into the public.”
The ultimate goal, he said, is “to figure out products that have a growth market outside of Telluride; that is what this is all about,” and then to develop Telluride as the perfect incubator for more products like them.
For more information, visit www.TellurideVA.com.
New Program Aims to Jump-start Innovative Entrepreneurship