The Southwest Innovation Corridor

The Southwest Innovation Corridor (SWIC), A Telluride Foundation initiative, is ramping up to catalyze momentum in rural southwest Colorado to build the innovation-based economy.  Funded through an i6 challenge grant from the Economic Development Commission, an Advanced Industries infrastructure grant from the State of Colorado and a family foundation, SWIC primarily works in the 8 county area from Delta to Cortez, the Utah border to Ouray.  Leveraging the success of the Telluride Venture Accelerator, SWIC is building on the vast mentor network and active investor community in order to jump start the eco-systems in the larger region to support the launch and growth of innovation-based companies.  SWIC seeks to inspire ideas, encourage networking and collaboration and support creation and growth of companies. 

Early projects include teasing out ideas by delivering entrepreneurship curriculum to senior engineering students at Ft. Lewis College, encouraging networking through the start of the Entrepreneurs of the Southwest meetup group and Startup Weekend Telluride in December, support for regional co-working facilities and development of the SWIC Innovation Internship program launching in spring 2018.  For more info on SWIC -- program description or contact Thea Chase, Director

What’s Most Exciting About TVA 2017: A Discussion with Ashley Nager

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. 

TVA Program Manager Ashley Nager. 

TVA Program Manager Ashley Nager. 

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.

Global Accelerator Network Rally & #RiseoftheRest with Steve Case

As we continue our national tours helping build TVA and recruit amazing teams, we hope to share our learnings with the TVA community. Below are some highlights from the most recent event with GAN in Denver and Rise of the Rest!

First, the #RiseofTheRest tour with Steve Case:

Denver was the 2nd stop and 21st city. He gives away $100k in each city via a startup pitch competition. Our very own mentor Jacqueline Claudia with Love the Wild pitched! Steve continues to be an amazing steward of the startup movement and it's importance for every city in America. I was fortunate to have breakfast with Steve, Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock, Governor John Hickenlooper, Jim Deters from Galvanize, Erik Mitisik and few other influential folks across the state. It's clear Colorado and its leaders have prioritized entrepreneurship and that the results are real. Denver is the 2nd fastest growing metro for millennial in the country, one of the top 5 hubs for high growth companies, and they all credit it to the leadership who made it a priority here. 

Global Accelerator Network: a network of 80 accelerators from around the world. Managing Directors gather once a year to discuss best practices, what's not working, and ultimately, how to provide the best possible support for startup founders. 

Key Insights: 

  • Attending an Accelerator Twice: A big question is if it ok. The real answer is "Yes, IF..." If the company really is progressing and hitting their goals. By definition, each program should help the company hit the next big milestone. If the company is still struggling with the same issues as the first program, it is most likely not a fit. Great examples of successful teams that have done it twice: Sphero and Revolar (both went through Techstars twice). 
  • Rolling Applications: Most MDs seem to feel extremely constrained by the one-a-year program schedule. Good validation for the Partner Program we're developing at TVA. Our goal is to provide similar terms 
  • Scale-up Accelerator: There is a huge need in the market for later stage support for founders. Doing some market research with several teams who went through GAN accelerators, it seems the real need is for companies already producing $1-2M ARR and the need is for the entire executive team to be able to unplug and truly define a strategy to make the next big leap. We'll be exploring launching a program around this for the Fall of 2017 in Telluride... Imagine ~2 weeks offsite with your executive team, 3 other teams at roughly the same stage, and a small group of truly world class mentors? Let us know if you're interested or have ideas! 
  • Alternative Financing Instruments: TVA is set to be one of the first accelerators in the world to offer a revenue loan type instrument for companies. The fact that we can target support for more modest growth companies seems to be something everyone gets excited about. I believe there is a true adjustment and alignment of resources in communities around the world  which I'm calling the 80/20 flip - our current models are based on 80% ROI for investors and 20% impact in our communities. I believe that most communities, especially outside of the major markets, is almost exactly the opposite. Let's all recognize the reality that startups are a new form of education and economic development for communities, and that we don't need to rely on unicorns to drive success stories and impact. 
  • Managing Mentors: Most programs actually don't track mentor and team performance. The ones that do seem to have a real edge. Expect TVA to be implementing a standardized NPS score for both mentors and teams this year to help mentors get better and help teams be more coachable. I also led a session with the group called "Mentors are like Mushrooms." A bit shout out to my former co-founder Franck Nouyrigat who created the original version of this that we've been using for years! 
  • Diversity: Gender wise, TVA is way ahead of the pack. Huge props to Thea, Ashley and Jesse for the previous 3 years. However, we're still lacking on other aspects of diversity. Diversity of thought, perspective, skills, culture, and life experience is so important to driving true innovation and progress. Expect us to continue to prioritize this internally at TVA. 
  • International Founders: With programs like this to help with visas, opportunities to support teams from around the world is a huge opportunity for both the program and the community. Telluride is already full of global thinkers and problem solvers, and we'd love to help continue investing this by bringing in some teams from around the world. 
  • The Entrepreneurs Journey: The Entrepreneurs Journey model lives on nearly 7yrs and counting. This model was literally what unlocked funding and drove our strategy to build and scale Startup Weekend, leading to UP Global, and the merger with Techstars. It also basically sums up my mental models for our strategy in Telluride as well. It was great to post on Facebook and see how many people are still using it around the world. 

Photo of Dave Drach from Techstars presenting it at the Global Accelerator Network annual summit with leaders from 80 accelerator programs around the world. 

Photo of Dave Drach from Techstars presenting it at the Global Accelerator Network annual summit with leaders from 80 accelerator programs around the world. 

Trip Report: "Innovate! and Celebrate" by and Google for Entrepreneurs Trailblazers

Report by Marc Nager, Managing Director, Telluride Venture Accelerator

I spent the past week in the Bay Area attending two startup events with two primary personal goals:

1) build and add to my network that might potentially help companies we’re working with at TVA and

2) explore what founders we might be able to help via any of our programs in Telluride.

Should you be an entrepreneur, investor or stakeholder, I hope these trip reports continue to offer some insight into what it’s like on the ground at these events as a fairly well connected person in the startup world. 


Google for Entrepreneur’s 4th annual Trailblazers Summit:

~25 co-working spaces, 4 accelerators, a few global event leaders and key Googlers gather each year to extend the mission of supporting entrepreneurs around the world. I led a session that was quite well received for the group on helping maintain a genuine sense of community as you scale.  

Key speakers:


  • Mary Grove: Mary is probably one of the most humble and impressive leaders I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. She’s always composed, professional, and just classy in everything she does and says. It’s been wonderful to see Mary and her team do so many amazing things and influence the entire company over the past 5 years. Want to know what Google is focused on today? It’s Virtual Reality, Machine Learning, Mobile Messaging, and servicing their Next Billion Users.
  • Erik Schmidt: Erik was very clear in his beliefe that “the solution to every known problem is more entrepreneurs.” Clearly one of the most influential people on the planet today, it was a real statement that he continually takes the time to support entrepreneurs, startups, and the relatively small group inside Google, and in turn he succeeds in doing an incredible job supporting the global startup movement. Leaders from all walks and professions should take note and understand why this passion drives him.
  • Dianne from Waze: Dianne dove into the nitty gritty of some growth examples of how Waze is rapidly growing and on a mission to help reduce the number of cars and save people-time around the world. Lots of great growth hacking tips I took away including one fun one: At Waze, as they expand internationally, they have to translate a lot of their key messages in their app stores. They used to get one person on the ground to translate what they know works in English and run with it. Now they get 5 translations and test them all. 100% of the time, it is not the one anyone would have guessed. A simple move like this can have an impact of over 10% on conversations for Waze. They do a similar thing with little country flag logos now on the Waze icon and saw dramatic impact on conversion in most countries…. Don’t take the little things for granted.
  • Cat Hoke from Defy Ventures: The most moving by far. She is proving the power of entrepreneurship. She convinced me that the US has the worst prison system among developed countries in the world. 76.6% of those released from our prison systems end up back in prison – a recidivism rate nearly double most of the rest of the world. Cat believes this is one of the most systemic issues behind racism as well, since a vast majority of those in our prison systems are black or Hispanic males. “Imagine being labeled and judged publicly for the rest of your life on the single worst thing you’ve ever done.” Seriously, think about that for a second. Through Cat’s programs, she’s proven that she can take the 76% rate of recidivism down to ~4%! WOW. How does she do it? Simple – she invests time to helping these people expand their creative expressions, good ideas,  and insights. She does this by helping them become entrepreneurs and create their own businesses, which they are ready to run as soon as they are released from prison.

Innovate! and Celebrate2016 By and Consumer Technology Association (CTA – who runs CES, the largest consumer tech show on the planet)

  • CTA’s forecast & exploration of the consumer tech industry. Worth noting:
  • "5 Technologies to Watch" Report: they release an annual report on key growing technologies driving the industry. I’ve got a copy at the TVA office if you want to take a look.  They are: digital assistants, VR, medical tech, transportation tech, and sports tech.
  • Consumer sentiment is neutral coming into this holiday season and the CTA chief economist predicts that we’ll see slight growth over 2017. Did you know that 68% of US adults will probably buy a technical device for themselves or someone else this holiday season?  
  • Panel of massive companies like Intel Capital, Local Motors, and IBM.
  • China has more people in school than the US has citizens. The Minister of Education in China recently mandated that all students will take courses in AR/VR.  We can all agree that this is one of the most influential technologies that will impact everyone in the world in coming years. It’s hard to imagine that with progressive policies like this, China won’t control the world and the underlying technologies that run it. 
  • Kevin from Local Motors is 3D printing cars and reducing the design-to-production cycle from 7 years in the industry to two months. Talk about disruption. He also imagines a world where every city street, parking lot, garage is completely reinvented in just the next 30 years. Did you know that if you account for every registered vehicle in the US and the time it is actually driving, we have under a 5% utilization rate? So in theory we’re operate at about a 95% inefficiency. Imagine a world where cars don’t eat up a massive chunk of our wealth, clog our roads, dictate our cityscapes, etc. It’s coming, and it’s coming much faster than anyone might think.  Are you ready? Is your local government? Is your business?
  • 5G internet and wireless services will start rolling out by the end of next year. This is a core infrastructure to supporting almost every other technology on the forefront today and connecting more than 50 billion devices in just 3 years. Speeds will be as high as 3GB/s and have incredibly low latency rates. 
  • AR & VR will completely disrupt the electronics industry. The world of devices, displays and hardware will not look the same in 10 years. We’re moving to a world not dependent on screens and hardware at all. This is exciting in that it will potentially impact the way we use natural resources, which are currently being extracted to make the billions of devices out there today. It could be a massive win for the environment and our planet that I never considered.
  • Agriculture – they have proven that using high-tech water delivery on farms in the US, we can reduce water consumption by up to 99%... yes 99%! Irrigation is perhaps one of the largest environmental wastes in every single country on this planet. Hurray. We can’t move fast enough on things like this, even if it’s only a fraction of what is theoretically possible.
  • Startup of the Year competition: 1k applications from across the country led to 50 Finalists and one winner. I was a Judge for the competition and got to talk with many of the finalists.  
  • VanJet Factory Tour with my former co-founder, Clint Nelsen: Clint is incredible at identifying opportunities. He’s onto something that I think will not only be a successful company, but that could impact how we think about travel, vacations, and even short term living situations.

People: I love reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Here are some worth noting:

Pascal Finette from Singularity University, former leader at Mozilla. You know those people who just make you feel inspired about everything no matter what the conversation? That’s Pascal. He also loved my Western Rise coat and is going to buy one. 

Sandro Gianella from Google’s Policy team. Turns out he grew up very near where my family is from in Switzerland. We both discovered through conversation that many of Google’s ambitious project launches started in obscure small towns with fun stories…. Cooking up something for Telluride!?

Leslie Jump and Mack Kolrich from Startup Angels. The Private equity market potential is almost 100X that of current Venture Capital market in the US. If we can find ways to better tap into capital out there to fuel entrepreneurship, it could be the single best way to address transfer of wealth, social mobility, and of course innovation in the US. I believe in their mission.

Adam Klein from American Underground. One of the most progressive and action oriented leaders in the startup world with regards to increasing ethnic and gender diversity. Truly an inspiration.

Ryan Sturgill from Gaza Sky Geeks – Thought building a startup was hard in the US? Try doing it in Gaza. This organization proves the potential of entrepreneurship. They need mentors to visit them and work with their startups, so consider getting involved!

Joey from Coalition for Queens – Teaching people to code in the minority neighborhood of Queens.  Taking people from $18k/yr to over $80k/yr jobs on average through their courses. Truly inspiring.

Lawrence Mandes from Galavanize. Can’t say enough good things about Galvanize and their approach. Lawrence and I are scheming a heli ski group for this winter…

Fadi Bishara from Blackbox Connect – supporting entrepreneurs from around the world by bringing them to Silicon Valley. He’s got such a refreshing and grounded vision of how to help entrepreneurs. I respect every insight he has because he’s on the ground and in the trenches every day with founders.

Brian Gorbett – leading marketing for Microsoft’s cloud platform, and formerly with Google Cloud, I’ve known Brian for about 6 years. He’s your model evangelist for tech products.  He also knows just about every accelerator and early stage investor in the US too.


Companies: I talked to at least 30 companies over the course of 2 days. Here are some of the ones I was most excited by:

Betagig – job shadowing platform. Why haven’t we considered making job shadowing a requirement before accepting a job, especially for new graduates? Simple and powerful way to reduce incredible waste of time, energy, and money in the HR industry for almost every company of every size.

CultivatingCoders: Working with Native American tribes to teach people how to code and get high paying jobs.

Peanut Butter: A platform that allows employers seeking talent to offer student loan repayment as an incentive. Could have a huge economic and social impact if this were a standard offering in the US, and it could be an amazing advantage for companies competing for talent.

ProxBox: Simple & clever way to digitize and improve the real estate experience for agents, home buyers, and sellers around the world.

InsiderBookings: I could have probably saved tens of thousands over the years if this travel service existed. Seems too good to be true, but testing it out soon!



We need to take real action with our education systems in America. We need to solve the student loan paradox, and we need to educate every student in the country for the skills that will actually matter in the next 20+ years. After hearing about China, and experiencing similar efforts in countries across the world, it’s clear that education could be the single largest point of failure for America as a hub of innovation and therefore a global leader. The private market can only pick up so much of the slack.

Recruiting for TVA at tech events like is better than I thought, especially if they are pulling in companies from outside the Bay Area.

The Bay Area mentality is in the crosshairs. The romanticism and optimism I remember feeling when I showed up to the tech scene in SF in 2008 is all but a memory. I can’t tell you how many skeptical people I talked with that live there.

Autonomous vehicles are going to change transportation. Our cities and their leaders can’t afford to ignore how drastically it will impact so much of the infrastructure they are in charge of today. Government has the opportunity to make this an amazing thing to solve many obvious challenges like traffic, parking, transit programs, safety, pollution, and environmental impact.  This is probably one of the most exciting changes that will impact our lives in a very positive way that my generation will get to fully experience.

With limited fiber access in Telluride, we should consider 5G over hard wire broadband to every home in town. 

Trip Report: What can we learn from North Dakota?

Report by Marc Nager, Program Director, Telluride Venture Accelerator

Initially intended for an internal audience, we are repurposing Marc's report for public benefit here on the TVA blog. 

Continuing our trip reports, I'd like to share my recent trip to Fargo, ND. You may think that you and your community don't have much to learn from what they are doing, but you're wrong! :)

Trip Report: Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2016

Trip Report: Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2016

Report by Marc Nager, Program Director, Telluride Venture Accelerator

As we gear up for TVA's 2017 program, we'll be attending several conferences related to our focus areas to help build relationships with key players and uncover promising founders that we might be able to help through our resources and programs at TVA. This report is really an internal report we wanted to make public from our trip to Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2016 in Salt Lake City. We hope it will be valuable to share with startups, investors, and stakeholders alike! 

Making Every City a Startup City (An Interview with the Founders of TVA)

Making Every City a Startup City (An Interview with the Founders of TVA)

Terah Lyons, a Confidential Assistant at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently sat down with the two co-founders of the Telluride Venture Accelerator to learn more about their model and how other communities across the country might be able to replicate the work that they’ve done in southwestern Colorado. You can read the full interview in the article, Making Every City a Startup City on the White House Blog.

Tailored for the Outdoor Entrepreneur: The Telluride Venture Accelerator

Want to know how to take the inspiration for the mountain lifestyle and turn it into a successful company? Interested in hearing about how successful entrepreneurs are seeking out funding today? Wondering how to go from concept to reality and launch with your business idea?

Today’s Intrepid Entrepreneur is a must-listen show for you. In this episode, I have the honor of leading a panel of three great entrepreneurial minds in the active outdoor lifestyle markets: Thea Chase, Director of the Telluride Venture Accelerator (TVA), Gordon Seabury, Founder and CEO of Toad&Co, (formerly Horny Toad Activewear), and Ross Saldarini, Founder and President of Mountain Khakis. When do you ever get a chance to hear three successful, visionary entrepreneurs talk shop about creating success and impact with a business in the outdoor, bike, snow, endurance, travel or health-and-wellness markets? Apparently, that would be today, in this podcast! You’ll also learn why TVA is an exceptional accelerator program for founders in these markets and perhaps most importantly, each of my guests shares their inspiration around creating a business that is also a vehicle for positive change!

To listen to the full podcast Click Here.

Telluride, A Community Invested in Your Success

The Telluride Venture Accelerator mentors are no doubt one of the great advantages of the program. The mentor group consists of successful people across a range of industries and businesses. But another great advantage of TVA is the Telluride community at-large.

Telluride is not your average mountain town. The Telluride community is special. Sure, the mountains are beautiful; the skiing is world-class; and there is an abundance of other activities to keep you active and healthy. But it is the people that make this community a truly special place.

One of the things I hear most often from tourists is how nice the people are here in Telluride and how welcoming the community is to them. Well, that is true. It was certainly my experience when I moved here five years ago. It is a small town and did not take long for me to get to know people.  I quickly learned it is more than just open arms and a friendly smile that make this community unique.

The talent in this community runs deep. From world-class athletes to accomplished entrepreneurs and business leaders, the Telluride community is full of people who are highly educated, well connected and full of amazing experiences.

It is a community that gets behind TVA and the companies that participate.

So, when you become part of the TVA program, you become part of the community. You’ll have access to many people beyond the mentors who are eager to help you succeed. It is an entire community invested in your success.

You may also want to read: "Becoming Local: The Telluride Difference"

To Apply to the 2016 TVA Program, Click Here.

Don't Just Pursue Your Passion, Fuel Your Passion!

I’ve been a mentor in the Telluride Venture Accelerator (TVA) program since the program started. I just live over the hill in Durango, Colo., and I volunteer with TVA for a couple of reasons. First, I love to mentor and coach entrepreneurs. I launched my third start up, LivingUber, just for that purpose. Second, I have two decades of experience as an entrepreneur in the outdoor, bike, snow, fitness, travel and endurance markets as the CEO and founder of Verde Brand Communications. Well, okay, there’s a third reason too.

Why TVA? Why Telluride?

I realize that there are literally hundreds of accelerator programs all over the world. But if you have a company you’re intent on launching in the active outdoor lifestyle markets, TVA is the program for you.

In the active outdoor lifestyle markets, we approach business a little differently. Relationships and innovation win the day (product is most definitely king), but there’s also a way forward if you will, that is very tough to explain if you haven’t been immersed in it for decades. The way I would describe it is passion-driven. This is how we connect with our target consumers and also, our peers in outdoors. It infects everything we do because it’s who we are. It’s why we choose to be in these markets instead of the vacuum-cleaner industry, etc. TVA can help you build the foundation of your business through that screen, which is invaluable.

Telluride also provides the balance that passion-driven founders have to have.

"My philosophy is that you cannot build and launch a start up in a passion industry without ensuring you are feeding what it is that inspires you (in our case, some form of outdoor recreation), regularly."

I’m pretty sure TVA is the only accelerator that serves that on a regular basis – it’s part of the curriculum.

Sure, you will work crazy long hours and be surrounded by some of the best minds in business who chose to retire in Telluride, own a home there, or just have to visit with regularity for various seasonal outdoor sport fixes (I fit here). But you’ll also be able to step out of your zone (I’ll get to the TVA work zone here in a minute), and ride some chairs for an hour or rip off some K’s (kilometers: Nordic, fat bike, etc). This jars your ideas free from where they happen to be stuck. Try it sometime. See how quickly you can gain clarity when you pit a problem up against multiple powder face shots. Trust me, they cure just about anything.

And regarding the Zone – TVA’s work Zone. I call it part zone of genius, part dormitory, part crazy family vacation, but you’ll be in lock down in a war room on the second floor of Telluride’s gorgeous Peaks property. Yes, it’s slope side, has coffee and is centrally located to all Telluride offers because it’s accessible via the town Gondola. Most important, there’s an energy to the space. People are head-down working, but also completely committed and accessible. Your peers will walk in (clunk, clunk, clunk) in their ski boots, and plop back down next to you to get back to work.

Sound epic?

TVA is epic and for the right entrepreneur, it’s nothing short of gasoline on the fire. I highly recommend it!