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Launching Outdoor Entrepreneurs

  • Mike St. Pierre tests Hyperlite Mountain Gear in the Ouray, Colorado ice park. Photo courtesy of Mike St. Pierre

A “venture accelerator” is an arrangement where small businesses offer equity in return for capital investment and mentorship. It’s a staple of big city investment life, but now the model has come to the high country thanks to the Telluride Venture Accelerator. A nonprofit branch of the community-focused Telluride Foundation, the TVA launched last fall. It accepted applications from small businesses established in the last five years with less than $1 million in revenue. The caveat? The nascent companies had to work in outdoor recreation, tourism, energy, education, or health and natural products—fields that could bring jobs and revenue to a mountain town.

After reviewing written and video submissions from more than 100 applicants, four companies were selected to receive a $30,000 equity investment and an $8,000 living stipend in exchange for four-percent equity. To get that reward though, the companies had to relocate to Telluride for a six-month residency—not exactly a hardship tour. “Telluride is dependent on real estate, tourism, and ski days,” says TVA Director Jesse Johnson. “The TVA supports new business and entrepreneurs.”

This year, the TVA selected Hyperlite Mountain Gear. And, as promised, founder Mike St. Pierre relocated his business from Biddeford, Maine to Telluride. Hyperlite launched three years ago, employing Cuben Fiber—a material used as high-performance sailcloth—to manufacture waterproof, minimalist packs and shelters. Since then, St. Pierre says, sales have grown by double and triple digits annually. Other participants include Globa.li, cloud-based software that allows boutique hotels in emerging markets to accept reservations; Hoggle Goggle, a local start-up that makes an integrated protective cover for ski goggles; and Colorado’s High Desert Farms, which produces dried food snacks.

The four companies work from a common Telluride office, with $100,000 worth of services from Microsoft and Amazon at their disposal. They also connect with full-time and part-time Telluride residents that bring real-world business experience to their role as mentors. “There’s tremendous depth to the people that spend time here that hadn’t been tapped into as a resource for the community,” Johnson says, noting that founders of websites like hotels.com and audible.com, Whole Foods board members, and industry veterans from Burton, Timberland, and Black Diamond call Telluride home.

On July 15, investors will gather in Telluride to hear pitches from Venture Accelerator participants. It’s the second phase of the venture accelerator process and it involves long term funding. St. Pierre sees it as a chance to take Hyperlite from start-up to industry player. “I’m looking to continue to build the brand and be a household name globally in the lightweight space,” he says. And if he pulls it off, the assist goes to a box canyon in Colorado’s San Juans that has turned into a business incubator. —Olivia Dwyer

Learn more at tellurideva.com.

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