The rural Rocky Mountains an untapped market of entrepreneurial spirit
September 2, 2014
Radio broadcaster Paul Harvey announced in an iconic 1978 address that on the eighth day God created farmers.
If that's so, then on the ninth he created entrepreneurs.
At least that's what Alex Huppenthal sees as he's working to help develop an "entrepreneurial ecosystem" in the small towns of the High Rockies and across rural Western Colorado.
"Forty-two percent of Americans live in rural areas, yet most entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are located in cities like Denver," Huppenthal said. "But there are outstanding ideas coming from rural entrepreneurs. The evolution of technology in rural Western Colorado has made it possible to open up connections between entrepreneurs."
Huppenthal, who now lives in Aspen, is a former global project manager for Microsoft Corp. He's also a software developer and built one of the first low-cost DSL modems. He attended his first Startup Weekend workshop for entrepreneurs about 18 months ago in Portland, Oregon. The workshops are intended to help connect entrepreneurs with investors and the human contacts needed to successfully launch a new company.
"I loved Portland Startup Weekend," Huppenthal said. "After struggling in a rural environment to reach critical mass teams for broadband, social networks and other localizing services, I was thrilled to be surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs working hard to turn ideas into businesses."
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"Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures," according to the Startup Weekend website.
As soon as Huppenthal returned to Aspen, he began facilitating Startup Weekends in the High Country. He's organized two in Aspen and was the master of ceremonies at the recent workshop held last month in Breckenridge.
"It's the equivalent of an MBA in only 54 hours," Huppenthal said. "You can't realize how much this does for a young entrepreneur until you see a Startup Weekend in action."
The Breckenridge workshop helped three teams of young entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. The winning trio, from Steamboat Springs, is soon moving to Summit County to finish launching its company, Gr8ful Giveback, a web- and mobile-based company built to link conscious consumers with socially responsible businesses.
"We are incredibly thankful for all the organizers, coaches, judges and sponsors that made this event possible," said Kyle DeFauw with Gr8ful Giveback. "The knowledge we gain from it is something that you can't put a price on."
The next Startup Weekend is slated for mid-November. It will focus on education. No location has been set, but it will probably be near the I-70 corridor somewhere between Glenwood Springs and Vail.
"We're inviting teachers, administrator, students and parents," Huppenthal said. "We want them to pitch ideas on how to improve education services. These ideas can then be used to create startups that serve the education industry."
He sees small towns and rural farmland and ranchland as rich, untapped resources for entrepreneurship.
"We're trying to create an ecosystem for entrepreneurs," Huppenthal said. "The big cities like Denver have already created thriving entrepreneurial environments. We want to take those ideas and get them started out here."
Anyone interested in getting involved in Startup Weekend can attend the next meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 4, at Colorado Mountain College's Spring Valley campus, located just south of Glenwood Springs. The meeting starts at 11 a.m. and will continue well into the afternoon.
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