Gov. Hickenlooper and Panelists Congratulate TVA and Companies
TELLURIDE – Helping to bring the first year of the Telluride Venture Accelerator to a successful conclusion, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told an audience salted with potential investors at The Peaks on Sunday evening that “it’s organizations like the Telluride Venture Accelerator that help put Colorado on the front lines of attracting young entrepreneurs to develop new and exciting companies that will create jobs both here and around the country, and perhaps the world.”
Following that endorsement, on Monday the TVA hosted its inaugural Demo Day where the four startup businesses that had just completed the venture accelerator’s first entrepreneur-in-residence program had the opportunity to pitch their businesses to over 120 investors, business owners and regional leaders.
Early indications are that it was an enormous success.
“Our first Demo Day lived up to its potential,” said TVA Director Jesse Johnson. “Each of the four companies hit it out of the park. Early indications are that our four companies have new investors. I wouldn’t be surprised if the group today helped raise more than $1.5 million for our companies.”
Launched in the fall of 2012 as an initiative of the Telluride Foundation, TVA’s goal is to develop an ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ in Telluride by giving small start-up businesses seed investments and access to vital networks of industry experts and consultants. The local venture accelerator began accepting applications for the yearlong program in September 2012.
After receiving hundreds of applications, TVA chose four companies that focused in the areas of tourism, natural products and outdoor recreation. Each company received an investment of $30,000 (in exchange for a four percent equity stake in each), $8,000 for lodging and transportation and $100,000 in perks from Amazon, Microsoft, PayPal and more. TVA also granted each company access to over 60 industry mentors and consultation with two entrepreneurs in-residence: Pete Wheelan, CEO of Inside Track, and Craig Howe, digital media strategist and founder of Rocket XL.
Applying for and administering the application process wasn’t easy. “We had about 60 individuals scan each application, which involved three rounds of interviewing and thorough evaluation,” said Johnson. “Our four companies rose to the top in every interview with strengths like quality business models, a strong team and substantial industry experience.”
Sunday’s Panel Discussion
Gov. Hickenlooper on Sunday evening was a participant in a panel discussion moderated by Johnson about the roles of government and philanthropy in encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation. He was joined on the panel by Scott Key, President and CEO of IHS, a Denver-based global information company and Lesa Mitchell, Vice President of Innovation and Networks at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit foundation based in Kansas City.
Mitchell agreed with Hickenlooper that while TVA provides a critical space for bringing investors and companies together, more work is needed for states like Colorado to increase the number of startup companies and to develop incentives for young people to start businesses. Citing examples from her work at the Kauffman Foundation, Mitchell said that Colorado and Telluride have an ace up their sleeves, because young people like living here.
“The number one necessity for economic growth is new young people, who almost always bring new businesses, innovation and jobs,” she said.
Hickenlooper adding that his administration is working to improve Colorado’s public education system, which will help attract new families and educate generations of new Coloradans in small business ownership and entrepreneurial skill.
“The Colorado state government is currently working on a plan that, if enacted, ‘could prove to be one of the most significant, forward-thinking overhauls of a public education system in the United States,’” said Hickenlooper, quoting United States Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan’s comments praising Colorado’s legislative and executive efforts to improve its public education system.
Near the end of the panel discussion, Hickenlooper apologized for needing to leave, saying he wanted to meet musician David Byrne, who was playing in Town Park at the Ride Festival. Earlier that afternoon, the governor introduced the Drive-By Truckers who were also playing at the festival.
The Telluride Venture Accelerators First Four Startups
Globa.li (pronounced ‘globally’) is a Denver-based company, co-founded by Sarah Fazendin and Maisa Fernandez, which aggregates boutique hotel inventory in Africa, Asia and Latin America. With a combined 29 years of industry experience, Fernandez and Fazendin, veterans in the African travel industry, developed the businesses with the simple objective of helping boutique travel companies thrive. “Global.li is a proven team with unique experience in travel. They know the market very well and have a track record of success which made them stand out from the rest of the applicants,” Johnson said.
Telluride Action Designs:
Telluride local Lara Young founded Telluride Action Designs, an outdoor recreation venture that creates attractive ski goggles that produces the Hoggle Goggle, which features integrated lens cleaners and protectors. Young began her presentation at Demo Day by saying, “as a swimmer for many years, I learned to rely heavily on my goggles. Years later, I turned to skiing and guess what, I still rely heavily on my goggles.” She added that as a mother, she sees her children’s goggles constantly fall victim to scratches from skis and ski poles. “Telluride Action Designs pre-sold 30 of their products. With that in mind, our application reviewers saw there was a need in the market,” said Johnson.
High Desert Foods:
Founded by Bill Manning, the Dolores-based natural and organic food company offers consumers 6350’ Natural Foods, a brand of organic and regionally sourced dried fruit snacks. Its business model focuses on building a regional brand identity that connects fruit growers on the Colorado Plateau with a product facility in southwest Colorado. The company’s initial target markets are consumers in the Rocky Mountain Region who value authentic local products. “The taste of the snacks did most of the selling. They really are delicious. 6350’ has a great business model and a great product,” said Johnson.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG):
Based in Biddeford, Maine and founded by Mike St. Pierre, the company designs, manufacturers and sells innovative, lightweight outdoor gear. HMG’s products often weight half as much as industry competitors without sacrificing durability or functionality. St. Pierre attributes the weight saving to Cuben Fiber, an ultra-light, waterproof laminate designed for America’s Cup sailboats. “This company has a 4-year proven track record and has doubled sales every year. HMG has carved out a unique position in the market and has a very entrepreneurial team,” said Johnson.