Technovation in Telluride: A startup community in the making

By: Elizabeth Kraus Monday July 29, 2013 0 comments Tags: Elizabeth Kraus, Paul Major, Telluride, Telluride Foundation


When I was invited to Telluride to help prepare the Telluride Venture Accelerator cohorts for their demo day on July 15th, I had high expectations for a mountain vacation but low expectations for innovation.

I'm happy to admit that I have been pleasantly surprised.

I guess it makes sense when you think about it. Telluride has long been a destination for the successful, wealthy and famous who want to get away from it all. However, when you're wired for success - particularly entrepreneurial success - a life of leisure isn't fulfilling for long.

This is what the Telluride Venture Accelerator (TVA) is smartly using to its advantage. The program started about a year ago when the Telluride Foundation decided to fund TVA as a way to evolve and expand its programs beyond its historical model of passive grant-making towards more proactive venture philanthropy.

"Funding for-profits is a way for us to enhance our economic impact in Telluride and retain high-quality human capital to benefit our entire community," says Paul Major, president of the Telluride Foundation.

From what I've seen so far, it seems to be working. TVA participant and Globa.li co-founder, Sarah Fazendin, has made great strides since I first met with her at the beginning of the program. "The wealth of knowledge and support from the Telluride community has far exceeded my expectations," says Sarah.

Thanks to the help of the TVA mentors like Cheryl Rosner, the former President of Hotels.com, Globa.li has refined their business model, secured strategic partnerships and signed up over 150 beta clients during their time with TVA.

The Telluride Venture Accelerator is accelerating three additional companies - High Desert Farms, Hoggle and Hyperlite Mountain Gear - but it's not just the four program participants who are benefiting from the TVA program. Several mentors and community members also attended my presentations on how to pitch to angel investors, many of whom were starting companies themselves.

Mentor Len Metheny, who moved to Telluride about a year after selling his company, ApplyYourself, Inc. to Hobson's in 2007, has been an active TVA mentor and has also launched Telluride-based Vidergize, a new video streaming platform for fitness classes.

Another TVA mentor, Dr. Richard Fulton, recently founded a medical device company called Nfinium Vascular and Aaron Silverman, former software developer for OPower and developer for a new D.C.-based startup, has been mentoring for TVA since he moved to nearby Ouray after realizing, "If I can work as a developer from anywhere, why not the mountains of Southwestern Colorado?"

Although the program has experienced the inevitable first-year hiccups, it plans to come back stronger next year by providing more structure for entrepreneurs and assigning one lead mentor for each company.

Regardless, it is clear that the symbiotic relationship with the community, entrepreneurs and mentors is birthing a new startup community in Telluride. The unique blend of ski town talent, wealth and resources have certainly set the program up for success and leads me to believe that a startup accelerator just might be coming to a ski town near you.
Elizabeth Kraus

About the Author: Elizabeth Kraus

Elizabeth Kraus is a Boulder entrepreneur and angel investor and co-founder of the <a href="http://www.impactangelgroup.com/"><em>Impact Angel Group</em></a>, a group of investors equally dedicated to making a difference and realizing a return. Prior to founding the Impact Angel Group, Kraus ran her own startups, myUsearch.com and Take it OUT! Fitness, and now spends most of her time convincing smart people that investing for social and environmental impact isn't just "feel good" investing, but is "real" investing.  She is a startup mentor and advisor and has been very active in state and national efforts to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem and mobilize angel investors.