I recently got to sit down with Ashley Nager, acting Program Manager of the Telluride Venture Accelerator. Ashley has seen the program grow over the past few years, and is more excited than ever about what 2017 has in store.
One of the major sources of excitement for Ashley is a change in how teams are sourced. In the past, TVA focused specifically on verticals: the outdoor industry, travel, health and wellness, energy, and natural resources.
That industry focus is changing.
Now, TVA is looking for companies that are solving a real problem, whether in their local community, a worldwide problem, or something that affects a specific user in a specific industry.
The new criteria: As long as you are solving a real problem and want to grow your company in the mountains alongside TVA’s rich mentor network, you are a potential fit for TVA.
As part of this shift away from targeting explicit verticals, TVA recognizes certain strengths in its mentor network. These strengths are the previously mentioned verticals: outdoors, travel, health and wellness, energy, and natural resources.
But the great thing about mentor networks (and a key element of this new approach) is that they expand by nature--if a team comes to Telluride with a specific niche need, our mentor network is robust enough to get the right people involved to fill that gap and make profound connections for that specific company.
All this means, to use Ashley’s words, “we can broaden the diversity of teams.”
"In years past, we've focused on specific verticals: outdoors, health and wellness, etc. This approach has worked--we’ve found excellent companies. But it also means we’ve potentially overlooked incredible companies, ones who don’t fit into specific categories like these, or who belong to other verticals that we aren’t looking at--but we nonetheless have the mentor network to support."
Another major update coming to the Telluride Venture Accelerator is the structure of our mentor network.
“We've split up the network based on those who can be most useful to our teams because of either their expertise or proximity to the program. Now there are several categories: 'lead mentor,' 'mentor,' and 'member.' And now we’re being clear about asking mentors to self-select into these categories. All of them can provide a lot of value, but at different times and at different reasons some can commit more than others. It’s about making the program more flexible in terms of how they interact, but at the same time being clear to the companies about who they can count on for what."
Ashley went on to describe a powerful feature of this new structure:
"We have a lot of mentors who have expertise in a specific skill set. For example, we have two mentors with specific expertise in the energy space. Last year, we didn’t have any energy companies so they didn’t have much to do. But now they can move within the member network and be clear that they’re backing off or committing more time depending on our 2017 companies."
And TVA is also adding a uniquely Telluride level of mentor-team interaction: Gondola pitches.
“We’re going to do hut trips and Gondola pitches with the teams this year. In the Gondola pitches, we'll start a company and a mentor at the bottom of the gondola and they'll pitch their business on the way up, receiving feedback on the way down."
"By design, the TVA program is intense, and we're going to make sure we don't forget to take advantage of the amazing surroundings. We truly believe it helps founders disconnect, take care of themselves, and gain better perspective on what they're working on.”
Among all the changes coming to TVA this year, many things remain the same: our commitment to innovation, our love for the mountains that house us, and our community's open arms and deep expertise.