Startup Ski Summit pairs powder turns with Joel Gratz keynote, tech panels
Startup Ski Summit
What: A half-day of skiing at Arapahoe Basin, followed by tech-minded panels and keynote addresses with Joel Gratz (OpenSnow), Jason Van Peeren (MJD Interactive Agency) and more start-up experts
When: Friday, March 27 at 7:30 a.m. (A-Basin shuttle leaves 8:30 a.m.)
Where: Elevate CoSpace, 711 Granite St. in Frisco
Cost: $35 advance, $45 day-of
Event passes include breakfast, lunch and all events at Elevate CoSpace. Lift tickets and ski rentals are extra. To purchase an event pass and find a complete schedule, see the Startup Ski Summit page at www.elevatecospace.com.
High Country entrepreneurs don’t quite abide by the typical 9-to-5.
Just ask Amy Kemp of Elevate CoSpace. Rather than launch yet another business mixer with brainstorming sessions and startup strategizing and a cheese platter or two, the founder of Frisco’s first co-working space took a cue from Entrepreneurship 101 and tapped her environment.
This Friday, Kemp and Elevate host the first-ever Startup Ski Summit, a full day of networking and expert panels dedicated to a relatively new brand of alpine entrepreneurs, the type who live and work where they want to play. And in Summit County, play almost always involves skis or a snowboard.
“I’m an avid skier myself, and in the winter, the most productive meetings I have actually happen on the chairlift,” Kemp said. “People just feel like they’re in the zone, and when we’re talking about out-of-the-box thinking, this is truly out of the box. You’re in the outdoors, not just sitting across from someone at a conference table.”
It’s a mentality shared by the 40-some-odd attendees coming from Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and a handful of mountain towns, including burgeoning start-up hotbeds like Vail and Telluride. Event passes are available right up until 8:30 a.m. on Friday, when the group finishes with a catered breakfast at Elevate, loads into a chartered shuttle and heads to the first business meeting of the day at Arapahoe Basin.
Again, Kemp took a page from the entrepreneurship handbook and built the event around an enticing, juicy hook like morning powder turns, just as app developers often begin with a well-known product and tweak it just enough to be fresh.
After all, the event founder knows her audience. The majority of attendees are start-up founders and CEOs who clock upwards of 80 hours per week behind a computer. When given the chance to hit the slopes for “work,” it’s nearly a no-brainer, and as Kemp said, her most productive meetings often take place outside of a cozy office.
“One of the constraints that exists in the start-up field, aside from the cost and time commitment, is that events like this don’t exist elsewhere,” said Gregg Blanchard, founder of the ski resort marketing website SlopeFillers.com who sits on one of the post-ski panels. “They happen in Denver and they happen in San Francisco and New York, but they don’t often make their way to the mountains. To give entrepreneurs the opportunity to not only get inspired, but get inspired in an environment they’re exited about, that’s a very cool opportunity.”
In the start-up world, Blanchard’s brainchild is something of a middle-aged veteran. He founded SlopeFillers.com as a blog in 2010 — the same year as Pinterest and Instagram — and after three years as a one-man operation, he linked up with Ryan Solutions, a resort-marketing firm based in Edwards. It’s now integral to the company’s online database, which is tapped by hotel operators, ski area managers and just about anyone tied to the logistical ins and outs of a resort community.
Yet during those first two years, Blanchard worked himself to the bone — and missed out on a beloved hobby in the meantime.
‘That’s the one thing that’s great about entrepreneurship: You realize the sky is the limit and then you work yourself to that limit,” Blanchard says. “I ended up working so hard there for a while that I just didn’t ski as much.”
He may have missed out on a few powder days, but Blanchard quickly built a following through the blog and was introduced to the tight-knit ski industry. It can be a bit intimidating at first, he says, but he learned to be patient with networking. When he built a relationship with just one industry figure, four or five additional contacts followed, and after a few years he felt at home.
“Once you’re in, it really is like having friends in high school — everyone is loyal to one another,” Blanchard said. “You don’t have the hard-nosed business dealings you see in other industries, with people stabbing each other in the back for a few extra bucks.”
THE DIGITAL SKIER
After the ski summit group leaves the slopes at noon, everyone returns to Frisco for lunch by Which Wich and a keynote address from Joel Gratz, founder of the wildly popular forecasting site OpenSnow. The unofficial powder prophet hardly needs an introduction, but given the success of his website and app, Kemp knew he had to be involved in the inaugural ski-centric startup day.
“He is so imbedded in the industry, but he’s also imbedded in the digital world,” Kemp said of Gratz. “He’s built such an incredible brand and such an incredible following. He just geeks out about everything he does.”
Following the keynote, Blanchard moderates a group of three ski industry experts for the first panel, dubbed “Quantified Skiers: The Future of Ski Tech and Personalization.” It takes a look at the intersection of skiing and technology, particularly mobile-based apps that give snow chasers — and entrepreneurs — more control over their on-mountain experience.
Blanchard points first to the big, bad app in the room: Epic Mix. When Vail Resorts launched its ski-tracking app during the 2010-11 season, it made waves across the industry. Resorts across the U.S. realized that skiers wanted to keep track of just about everything, Blanchard says, from vertical feet to trail accomplishments.
One of the panel experts, Jason Van Peeren of MJD Interactive Agency in Boulder, helped develop the first round of mountain-based apps for properties beyond the Vail Resorts umbrella, including Winter Park and Mammoth Mountain in California. After seeing the potential of user-generated ski data — say, how a resort marketer can leverage — he realized the market is open to dozens of niche products, including popular devices like the Apple Watch and Nike Sports Watch.
“I think those will play a big part in allowing a skier or snowboard to keep their phone in the pocket, and that’s something I always think about when my phone starts ringing on the lift,” said Van Peeren, who agreed to join the panel after skiing with Kemp. “It won’t be just about making calls — it’s about how to leverage these watch wearables to create an additional access point for these new apps.”
The technology panel is paired with a start-up financing panel, moderated by Jeff Schell of event sponsor Rocky Mountain Patent. It’s a cornerstone of just about every start-up event, but given recent developments in the crowdfunding realm, panel members like Gabby Tinner of Quandary Crowdfunding can help attendees debunk myths.
“You do not make profits off crowdfuding, and that’s a big misconception,” said Tinner, who launched her start-up with Schell as a partner. “The big thing about crowdfunding is you need to think of it in the short-term. It’s a way to get from point A to point B, not see hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time.”
Like the majority of panel experts, Tinner will join attendees on the hill before digging into financing strategy. She admits the start-up world can be exhausting, but again, a bit of play can make the work worthwhile.
“When it comes to running a start-up, you’re logging 80 to 90 hours per week just to get off your feet,” Tinner said. “But all that stress can kind of go away when you know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. That just seems to be the mentality with everyone in the mountains — they’re doing what they love in a place they want to be.”
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