Colorado Ski Country Tries to Tap Into Entrepreneurial Talent Base

1/22/14Follow @MichaelXBD

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and they were from a much broader area that included international applicants. The six participants have been chosen, and they will move to Telluride in February for the start of the five-month program.

Work on the accelerator only began in 2012, but it’s already getting attention from other mountain resort towns as a way to build startup scenes, Johnson said.

The traction isn’t limited to Telluride. Aspen’s first Startup Weekend was last October, and 10 teams ended up going through the program.

The event drew about 100 people, Fox-Rubin said. About a third or a half were the young tech-savvy types you’d expect, and the rest were successful businessmen and businesswomen who wanted to find out what startups were all about.

That kind of attention could come in handy down the road, as Aspen’s startup community tries to build its infrastructure and make connections with more mentors.

Breckenridge on the other hand is just getting off the ground, Fisher said. It is expecting about 100 people to attend, he said, and he also has big plans for the New Tech Meetup, which will be at the Colorado Mountain College’s Breckenridge Campus.

The meetup will be on Saturday, March 1, and start at 6 p.m.—after the ski lifts close. Fisher is selling the event as something to do after a day on the slopes that’s also a convenient way to avoid the evening traffic jam that clogs the highway back to Denver. He also said attendees can find discount lodging.

Economic necessity and long-term plans

While the goal of the accelerator and startup weekends is to build successful businesses, there is also a conscious desire to diversify the local economies.

Each organizer spoke about their town’s dependence on tourism, which makes them very vulnerable to economic downturns. That was certainly on the minds of the TVA’s backers.

“The venture accelerator really all started with a conversation about ways to diversify the economy,” Johnson said. That’s why its major local backer is the Telluride Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to sustaining the community.

Fox-Rubin said towns around Aspen have occasionally fallen prey to the temptation to try and lure large companies to relocate. It hasn’t worked, and Fox-Rubin believes the focus instead should be on nurturing startups that could grow into successful companies.

Fisher hopes that ultimately the communities can collaborate and share resources. He recently outlined his ideas in a white paper for community organizers and economic development officials. After that, he’d like to build closer connections to the Front Range, the geographic area just east of the Rockies where the overwhelming majority of Coloradans live.

But first, Fisher thinks the communities need to get peoples’ attention.

“We’re using [Startup Weekend] to make a splash. New Tech is more intended to let people on the Front Range know we exist,” Fisher said.

“We want everyone to know we’re here, and we’re not just a partying ski town,” he said. “That’s not communicated to the Front Range.”

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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