Congressman Polis attends roundtable business discussion in Frisco
Congressman Jared Polis hosted an entrepreneur and startup roundtable discussion at Elevate coSpace in Frisco on Thursday, Nov. 12.
“It’s not all just in Boulder; Summit County can also benefit from startups,” Polis told those in attendance.
Sydney Fox and Nick Truitt, who operate Breck Bike Guides, shared their experience with opening a successful startup in Summit County.
“It started as a seasonal (summer) business, just to do bike tours, but people kept asking us to work on their bikes,” he said.
Last winter the duo decided to run their business through the winter season, which has proved to be fruitful. To accommodate those wanting to ride but perhaps not freeze, the bike shop opened an indoor cycling studio a year ago.
“The cycling studio started (last year) and moved to a new space last week,” Fox said. “We started (three years ago) with 500 square feet of seasonal space and now have over 3,500 square feet in two Main Street locations.”
Some of those at the meeting were just starting down the path to begin a startup. Nadiya Mitelman, who moved to Summit County just last week, is launching Elite Altitude Performance. Her goal is to establish all-inclusive, high-altitude training camps for cyclists, runners and triathletes.
“We are looking at opening camps in Breckenridge, Leadville, and maybe Estes Park and Fort Collins,” she said.
David Knell, CEO of TelNG, a telecom carrier and service provider, said since locating his business in Breckenridge, expanding his human capital has been a difficulty.
“It has been challenging to find quality tech people,” he said.
Polis admitted that attracting a quality workforce is vital for businesses to remain successful and grow. He also expressed confidence that the apparent trend could be reversed.
“People in the metro area may not know about job opportunities in Summit County, but a lot of people in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins would be interested in moving here.”
Bryan Byrne, an independent insurance broker who relocated to the area from Denver this June, noted the transitory nature of the population in Summit County.
“Lots of people are moving in and out,” he said.
Brian Flickinger co-founded the Silverthorne-based startup Threadlyte, which buys and sells gently used outdoors clothing. A Summit resident since 2005, after recently completing an MBA program at the University of North Carolina, he opted to open his own business.
“Why don’t I start my own business and stay up here?” he asked. “But if I’m successful how am I going to hire people.”
Affordable housing is the biggest challenge to recruiting, Flickinger said. After examining the possibility of renting a residence, he quickly concluded a mortgage would be a less costly option.
“Well, I guess I’m going to buy a house,” he said to a roomful of laughter.
In response to the sentiments shared, Polis pointed out that Summit County is working diligently on the housing issue.
“The focus is more on diversifying the economy and developing affordable housing,” he said. “But it all takes time.”
Channing Nuss, principal at Eighty One Fifty Consulting, a full service professional consulting firm based in D.C. and Colorado, said the mountains hold such an obvious appeal, the firm hopes to relocate their East Coast staff to the Rockies.
“We all kind of came here for the same reasons,” he said. “We’re moving the whole show here.”
Fox said there is an obvious disconnect with professionals like Nuss, who create better paying jobs, while noting that most resort employees are not highly compensated. From her experience the resources exist in Summit County to change the situation.
“If you stay here forever, you either own a business or work for Vail,” she said. “There is a hidden community of entrepreneurs. A huge number of our customers are business owners.”
Connecting funders with entrepreneurs should be the top priority, Fox said.
Polis noted the state legislature is working to address a need for greater funding for startups.
“In Colorado we still lack professional venture capital,” he said.
Amy Kemp, co-founder of Elevate coSpace, said local efforts have been focused in the same direction.
“We are definitely in the nascent stages of identifying the investors are in the community,” she said.
Bringing more business to the area is not agreeable to all, Kemp said.
“I’ve talked to (local) leadership and heard them say ‘we don’t want economic development,’” she said. “We don’t want to be bigger.”
Polis noted that growth can be a double-edged sword.
“There’s a great quality of life, which makes it attractive for others to do business here,” he said. “Rents are high but they generally are in startup hubs.”
People don’t usually start businesses in Summit County or Boulder for low rent, Polis opined.
“Some businesses will succeed and others won’t, but we hope they can start and grow here,” he said. “And not move to metro area.”
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