“We’re starting to create a culture that takes pride in and celebrates the people who take risks and build things. It will only grow.”

 Forget what you think you know about startups.

Tech, software, biotech— sure, they’re still buzzing in Colorado. But along the Western Slope, the bulk of startups found their sweet spot in the outdoor industry— making gear and software and food and clothing. And they’re growing fast.

Those startups will gather June 5-8 for the first annual Western Slope Startup Week, bringing together a wide range of networking, discussion and learning among startup execs, aspiring entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, bankers, economic development groups and ancillary service providers.

The events will be free and a sort of choose-your-own adventure of sorts, ranging from events in Durango and Steamboat and the main activities happening in Grand Junction. The sessions will range from debt financing and hiring in the mountains to taking products and ideas to market and collaborating for a competitive advantage.

Startup Week has become a popular event in Boulder and Denver and cities along the front range. Because it was founded by Boulder-based Techstars, which operates acclaimed tech accelerator programs throughout the globe, those sessions for the most part have focused on software and technology.

But this time will be different. The first annual western slope event will be unique, rallying all types of entrepreneurs, from tech and outdoor apparel to mom-and-pop downtown business owners.

“People think of startups as tech, but the culture and values is being applied to other industries now,” says Delaney Keating, managing director of Startup Colorado. “And there’s a lot of movement that’s happening in the western slope.”

The events underscore a massive shift across rural towns in western Colorado. Entrepreneurs have come out of the woodwork, starting up new businesses that veer away from the area’s core traditional real estate, tourism and construction industries.

“Startup Week is great because it shines a business light on these non-traditional companies that are starting here, growing here and thriving here,” says Chris Romer, president & CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.

A number of startups are thriving in the Vail Valley: Sync Performance in Vail, Liberty Skis in Avon, Rever in Eagle, High Country Kombucha in Eagle, Mountain Careers in Vail, Locale Mountain Apparel in Gypsum. Thriving startups are also percolating in places like Durango, Steamboat, Summit County, Grand Junction and Montrose, and they’re buoyed by the Outdoor Retail Show planting roots in Denver and Gov. Hickenlooper’s creation of the new outdoor recreation office, which centered on economic development.

Startup Week will highlight and likely drive more competitive, aggressive economic development efforts across the western slope, says Keating, as more communities plant their stakes in the ground to be home to the outdoor industry.

For instance:

  •      Grand Junction is developing an 140-acre public park along the Colorado River that will be home to an outdoor recreation business park – the Riverfront at Las Colonias. Bonsai Design is the anchor tenant, and will be joined by RockyMounts, a company relocating to the area from Boulder. 
  •      Montrose created a business campus for outdoor industry manufacturing, pinning down Ross Reels as an anchor tenant. “It’s a big move for 20,000 people,” he said.  
  •      Gunnison created the Catapult Outdoor Accelerator to help startups.
  •      Oveja Negra, a bike bag maker in Salida, won the Wright Award, which celebrates outdoor innovation. Other noteworthy businesses include Tailwind Nutrition in Durango, Harvest Skis in Steamboat Springs and Mountain Careers in Vail.
  •      Meanwhile, Durango-based fintech company Gitprime just sold for $170 million this past month.

Says Delaney: “We’re starting to create a culture that takes pride in and celebrates the people who take risks and build things. It will only grow.”

You can see that in how the Techstars Startup Week West Slope event came to life – an impressive list of partners and sponsors, including Title Sponsor US Bank, came together in the name of regional collaboration.

Blog post written by the Content & Storytelling Sponsor for West Slope Startup Week, Campfire Content

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