The recent Startup Weekend held in Telluride continues the momentum that Western Colorado is gaining in the exciting world of entrepreneurship and startup companies. “This is the second one we’ve done in Telluride,” says Marc Nager, Managing Director of the Telluride Venture Accelerator and Co-Founder of Startup Weekend. “There are about 1000 events per year in 140 countries. These events are for community building to help entrepreneurs take the first steps to actually launch companies.” Community leaders from across the Western Slope plan to collaborate to host four Startup Weekends in Colorado each year, with initial sites set in Grand Junction, Montrose, Durango, and of course Telluride.
“We were hoping to get 30 people to attend, and were delighted to have almost 60 participants there,” Marc says. Attendees came from Flagstaff, Boulder, Grand Junction, Telluride and other communities across the region. There were also students from Fort Lewis College in Durango and Western State Colorado University in Gunnison.
“We started out Friday evening with 25 ideas that were pitched,” says Marc. “From there we narrowed it down to 7 project teams.” Mentors worked with the teams throughout the weekend validating the ideas, talking to potential customers, working through possible business plans, then coming up with minimum viable products by Sunday. “The culmination was a pitch to the rest of the group in front of a panel of judges,” says Marc. “They were rated on customer validation, product execution and business model. Our winner was Airrick Hicks, an engineering student at Fort Lewis College with his product Roof Dog.”
“I’m a non-traditional student,” Airrick says. “I spent several years after high school teaching snowboarding in the winter and working construction in the summers. When I went back to school at 25, I discovered that I liked math and problem solving.” As an engineering student set to graduate this spring, Airrick has already begun using his problem solving skills on the jobsite. “I got this idea when I was building rooves. When you build a roof, one person is up in the trusses, and another is down on the ground handing up wood. It takes two people to do this because there’s nowhere to place everything. You have to have all your stuff – your tools – attached to you. Using trigonometry principles, I built this platform that attaches to the trusses so it stays flat no matter the angle of what it’s attached to. This way, the guy on the ground can load up the wood every hour or two, rather than standing there waiting to hand up a piece wood every few minutes. This frees him up to go do another job in the meantime instead of standing around waiting. It doubles productivity and saves the boss money. He can bid lower for the job and everybody wins.” The judges at Startup Weekend agreed with Airrick, finding that the idea was worth pursuing.
“I knew it was a good idea. I’ve been using it for years,” Airrick says about his pitch, “but it was hard to explain the problem, then explain the solution in 60 seconds on Friday night.” Airrick must have done well, considering that he got the most votes that night, and ended up with the biggest team. “It was fun to lead the team. We had a great group and it was the first time I was able to be the boss. I think I was able to balance instruction with the reasoning behind it and get people on board with the vision.”
While he’s known it was a viable idea, and has used it himself on the jobsite, it was the business execution that was holding Airrick back. “I don’t know about the business side of things,” he says. “I can build stuff but I don’t know how to sell stuff.” That is where the Startup Weekend can help inventors like Airrick become entrepreneurs.
“Airrick wins a three-month membership at the co-working space in Durango and priority consideration at SCAPE [Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs] in Durango,” Marc explains. “He and his team plan to stay together and pursue this product idea further.”
This and future Startup Weekend events benefit our region by creating a pipeline for great ideas. By diversifying economic development beyond existing local companies, a Startup Weekend and other innovation-encouraging events help bring forward people with ideas. These ideas can update and revitalize legacy industries, as well as introducing new industries to Western Colorado. “Entrepreneurship is a solution for long-term sustainable economic and social vibrancy in the Western Colorado,” Marc says.
For those wanting to get involved, either as a participant, mentor, volunteer or sponsor, more information is available at www.StartupWeekend.org. Marc extends a special thank you to the volunteers who helped organize the Telluride Startup Weekend including Sam Barnes, Denis Lankes, Ryan Fliss, and Ashley Nager, with judges Len Metheny, Emily Hickey, Jasper Welch, and Jesse Johnson. “Also, we could not make this happen without our sponsors: Proximity Space, LAUNCH WestCO, SWIC, Telluride Foundation, The Johnson Family Foundation and VideoBlocks.” Get ready for the next Startup Weekend, coming soon to a Western Colorado community near you.