Matching Entrepreneurs with Mountaintop Money and Mentors

A story from the Telluride Community Foundation (CO).

The Telluride Foundation, started in 2000, is not your “grandmother’s community foundation” as Paul Major, President and CEO, will tell you. Located in the majestic San Juan Mountains, the foundation believes that the best way to improve the quality of life in the region, now and in the future, is to invest its resources to start, run and own initiatives designed to create economic opportunities. The foundation saw an opportunity to apply this impact investment approach to building a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Click here to access the PowerPoint.

The foundation understood the need to add another leg to the economic development base of the Telluride community, long dependent on housing – particularly second home development – tourism and mining. They saw entrepreneurship development as offering the most promise since research shows that most jobs are created by new firms. The foundation went to work tapping the resources in the community that could work together to encourage a startup culture. They had a great supply of human talent – experienced entrepreneurs who lived at least part-time in the community and had a passion for working with younger entrepreneurs. They also could offer connections to financial resources through a group of angel investors.

The result was the creation of the Telluride Venture Accelerator, a residency program that roots six entrepreneurial companies in Telluride for five months. These young startup companies work through the Lean Startup program, meet regularly with a mentor and get seed funding of $25,000 plus travel and housing stipends. In return, the Foundation takes a 4% equity stake in each company. At the end of the program, startups have a chance to pitch their company to both local and outside investors during Demo Day.

Paul Major will tell you that this work is not for the faint of heart. The foundation currently has equity stakes in 18 companies, many of which are unlikely to achieve stellar success. Beginning with the 2013 cohort, the program now has 11 alumni and engages 85 mentors. Seventy-five (75) percent of the 2013 cohort raised at least $300,000 in their first year. As important is the development of a more vibrant and diverse ecosystem in Telluride. There are now about 50 startup companies – some that came and stayed because of the Accelerator; others attracted by the energy and culture that is beginning to define Telluride.

When you think of startup hot spots in Colorado, Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs come to mind. Watch out for the newest hot spot in Telluride!