Five new businesses have been selected to participate in a business-accelerator program that has helped seed 19 different Southwest Colorado firms with $4.7 million in investments and created 75 new jobs.
The Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs was established 4½ years ago by local economic development groups and angel investors. Its mission is to generate more local companies in Southwest Colorado, but it also is focused on expanding companies outside the region. “We’re looking for businesses that can grow and quickly scale beyond our immediate region,” said Elizabeth Marsh, director of SCAPE.
The five businesses selected for 2018 are:
Blue Water, owned by Brian Slaughter and Courtney Gates, which plans to update and modernize boat fenders and dock bumpers, usually old tires that have gone unchanged for more than 50 years. Blue Water aims to make more functional, practical and aesthetically pleasing replacements for the marine bumpers and fenders.Rendezvous Doughnuts, owned by Charlie Shew, which has one shop in Durango at 139 E. Fifth St. and is looking to franchise beyond the region.Vessel, owned by Matt Clark, which plans to update the way society handles death, creating aesthetically pleasing urns, flat-pack coffins and cremation sanctuaries.Online Web Services, owned by Randy Feuilly, which has developed software to assist victim advocate programs. The firm currently serves 800 users across the country and is seeking assistance in marketing to scale beyond its current customer base and to expand its use in the criminal justice system.The Choke Cherry Tree, owned by Jenelle Syverson of Pagosa Springs, a specialty kitchen and food store that uses historical-era equipment to create treats such as wrapped caramels, jams and jellies. Syverson is looking to expand into franchising.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.
“All the selected firms have some traction with sales of a product or a product that is well-developed,” Marsh said.
Another factor in selecting businesses, she said, is having a skilled mentor available regionally to help the business in its particular industry.
“We are so fortunate in Southwest Colorado to have a bunch of recently retired executives living in the area, and they want to help the next generation of entrepreneurs, and they are willing to donate their expertise and time,” Marsh said.
Blue Water owner Slaughter said Gates and he are avid water skiers who frequently head out to Navajo Lake, and their passion led to a discussion about the beat-up, old tires used at docks – a fruitful conversation that led to the development of their concept to use better materials and better designs to replace the old tires as dock bumpers and boat fenders.
“We’ve worked up a prototype that uses new materials. They’re colorful, and you can have custom lettering for your boat or company,” Slaughter said.
SCAPE, which will offer some 80 sessions during its six-month curriculum, offers an excellent opportunity for Blue Water to learn about marketing techniques, seek additional investors and aid in refining its product, Slaughter said.
“Friends have gone through SCAPE, and we were able to pick their brains,” he said. “They’ve really got the program refined.”
Slaughter is especially looking forward to working with mentors who can help Blue Water with manufacturing, distribution and boating-industry experience.
Online Web Services owner Feuilly said his 3½-year-old firm already is working with 800 users across the country and is looking for SCAPE to help him with marketing, refining his software and expanding to other markets, such as providing services for child advocates and court-appointed special advocates for children in the judicial system.
Feuilly’s daughter, Clarisa, a victim advocate in Cortez, asked him to develop software for the office there to replace handwritten files that were frequently outdated and inaccurate.
The software spread to other victim advocate offices throughout Colorado and then it went nationwide.
Now, he said it’s time to hire employees to handle service calls and training duties and to expand the software to other markets.
“It’s time to take it to the next level,” he said.