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Five Southwest Colorado firms on fast track to growth

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Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 1:48 PM
Courtney Gates and Brian Slaughter talk about their business, Impact, during the SCAPE Startup Showcase and Investor Social in the Ballroom at Fort Lewis College. Impact intends to provide more functional and better-looking fenders and bumpers for boats and docks.
Travis Kimmel, CEO and co-founder of GitPrime, was the keynote speaker during the SCAPE Startup Showcase and Investor Social in the Ballroom at Fort Lewis College last week.
More than 100 people attended the SCAPE Startup Showcase and Investor Social in the Ballroom at Fort Lewis College last week.

Daudi Barnes is looking for an investment of $4 million to $5 million to revolutionize the way rocket thrusters are designed and manufactured through his firm, Agile Space Propulsion Co., located at the Durango-La Plata County Airport.

Janelle Syverson wants to franchise recipes for chocolates, jams and other goodies from a business, The Choke Cherry Tree, that started in Pagosa Springs in 1999. Her goal is to create a retail experience so unique Amazon can’t match it. She’s looking for $50,000 to help her with marketing costs and to aid forming strategic alliances.

The businesses may be diverse, but they have a couple things in common: They are located in Southwest Colorado and they are using the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs to help to bring business ideas from startup to thriving job creators.

SCAPE’s recent 2018 Startup Showcase and Investor Social illustrated the wide range of entrepreneurial efforts now baking in the region’s economic-development oven. SCAPE’s mission is to aid promising startups that will eventually help diversify the local economy by becoming national in scope, but they will continue to call Durango and other towns in Southwest Colorado home.

Pitches were made to investors by five companies selected to participate in SCAPE’s 2018 business accelerator program.

Over the course of six months, SCAPE provides mentoring, education, access to capital and help with such things as marketing, financial projections, hiring plans and refining investment pitches. The firms are initially selected based on their prospects for growth and their potential to diversify an economy too dependent on leisure tourism and natural gas.

The selected companies also gain access to funding from the SCAPE Investment Fund Limited Partnerships, which provides money through a collaboration of public and private donors and is designed to provide risk capital to promising businesses in the region.

“All the selected firms have some traction with sales of a product or a product that is well-developed,” said Elizabeth Marsh, director of SCAPE.

In selecting businesses for the program, Marsh said SCAPE is looking for a high-performing management team, a unique idea for a service or product and a solid plan for growth and job creation.

The other businesses comprising SCAPE’s 2018 class are:

Vessl, started by architectural partners Matthew Clark and Dustin Chapin, is aiming to disrupt the funeral industry by producing sustainable and aesthetically pleasing urns for cremation remains at prices below current levels. Vessl has been financed by capital from the partners, and it is not yet seeking additional funding.Impact, started by longtime friends and avid water skiers Brian Slaughter and Courtney Gates, sees an opportunity to provide more functional and better-looking fenders and bumpers for boats and docks. Current bumpers and fenders have remained unchanged in 50 years. Impact is seeking $200,000 in investments for marketing, machining equipment and new product development.Victim Tracking Services, a Mancos firm started by the father-daughter team of Randy Feuilly and Clarisa Feuilly, began as a way for Clarisa to keep a better inventory of cases in the 22nd Judicial District’s victim advocate program in Cortez. The idea blossomed into one strong enough to support a business when software developed for one office in Cortez was quickly spotted by other victim advocate agencies struggling with the same case loads and inventory-control issues. The Feuillys are looking for $60,000 in investments to take their software national, even international.Barnes, who worked on the Space Shuttle engine in the 1990s, uses 3D printing to make thrusters in half the time and cost of conventional methods.

“We can test a lot of designs quickly and filter out the best ones,” he said of the advantages of his 3D printing manufacturing. “The industry is tied to the way things have always been done.”

He has developed a 100-pound thruster for a rocket and is currently working to develop a smaller, 5-pound thruster.

“It’s the first rocket engine ever developed in Durango. It’s pretty cool,” he said.

The same idea of overturning convention in an industry that’s grown stale drives Clark and Chapin, who began exploring their idea after the death of Clark’s father.

“The funeral industry is stuck in the past. Its stagnation has created an opportunity for disruption,” Clark said.

Clark and Chapin, like Barnes, use 3D printing to move more quickly and more efficiently than competitors.

For Syverson, her disruption comes from the sensual pleasure of walking into a shop and smelling and seeing candies and jams made before your eyes.

“We are adventure travel and agricultural tourism,” she said.

Slaughter and Gates are aiming to serve docks on public lakes and reservoirs with dock bumpers and the boating industry, especially the performance sport boat market, with fenders that are customized to fit the boat.

Their business plan is one common to many manufacturers: Their firm, Impact, using modern materials and form-fitting designs, is building a better mouse trap.

“Designs in this industry are 50 years old, and they really don’t work well on high-performance boats. They roll off,” Slaughter said.

Impact has an initial design and has developed an inventory of manufactured product, which is made in Aztec, New Mexico, and it is ready to go to market, Slaughter said.

The Feuillys’ firm, Victim Impact Services, currently serves 200 victim advocate agencies in the United States, but there are a total of 50,000 such organizations in the country. The firm recently signed a contract to provide its case-management inventory tracking software to Arlington, Texas, and it is in negotiations with Miami-Dade County in Florida.

“It allows us to spend more time with victims rather than paperwork,” Clarisa told investors.

The Feuillys also see the possibility of adapting their software for use by probation departments, parole offices and child care agencies – further expanding their market.

This year, the firm expects to land its first client in Canada. In 2019, it is looking to expand to other English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

From September to December, SCAPE will recruit four to six firms for its 2019 business accelerator class.

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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