TVA: What’s in a Name?

TVA: What’s in a Name?

It is a fine example of synchronicity. Two great minds coming up with one big idea independently and at about the same time.

The Telluride Foundation’s CEO and president Paul Major and board member Jesse Johnson hatched the notion of an accelerator based in Telluride some time in 2012. Then they came together and made it happen.The overarching goal of the Telluride Venture Accelerator, now an initiative of the Foundation, became launching and growing new, high-growth businesses for fun and profit out of the Telluride region, burnishing and augmenting the image of who we are – i.e. more than a ski resort.

Telluride Foundaton's Jesse Johnson (left) & Paul Major (right)

Telluride Venture Accelerator’s Jesse Johnson (left) & Telluride Foundation’s Paul Major (right)

In 2013, the Telluride Venture Accelerator picked four companies for its freshman class: Hoggle Goggle, High Desert Farms, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear. TVA’s current director, Thea Chase, reports that collectively the group has raised about $2 million and 75% have raised over $300k. The numbers, according to Chase, far exceed the bar the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) sets for success, which is 30% over $300k the first year.

TVA’s second class is supporting the launch of six companies: LifeDojo, an online health & life skills education platform; makeena, a location-aware mobile and web platform that allows shoppers to make healthy choices for themselves; Fresh Monster, the first mass brand of a natural, toxin-free personal care brand designed and formulated just for kiddos; PlanitMapper, a platform that makes it easy to map and share your next outdoor adventure; Awestruck Dental, a Telluride-based company commercializing a device that reduces discomfort and pain at a dentist’s office; and Journey, a social-networking application geared towards connecting people based on shared experiences.

Sounds good you say – but about as clear as mud. Time to pull back to basics.

Let’s take a look at exactly what an accelerator is all about and why locate such a program in Telluride.

TVA’s Thea Chase adroitly unravels accelerators:

MIT’s Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast featured TVA’s Thea Chase, then managing director of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

MIT’s Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast featured TVA’s Thea Chase, then managing director of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

A Seed Accelerator is a business development and investment program that takes place during a fixed-term, and is cohort-based. It includes mentorship and educational components, culminating in a public pitch event or demo-day.

Other elements include:

·       Provides seed stage investment 15-25k

·        Short duration 3-6 months

·        Cohort based – companies entering and graduating at same time

·        Intensive programs characterized by extensive mentor interaction

·        Extensive networking, educational and mentoring opportunities

·        Selection – generally casts a wider net due to duration/focus

·        Companies very early stage – may not have any organizational form

·        Programs geared toward business model validation and preparation of offer

·        Most have work space

·        Demo day culmination – presentation to investors

Where did  the idea of accelerators come from?

Seed Accelerators are an intersection between business incubation and angel investing. Taking the business development assistance and increased success rates from business incubation and combining that with critical early stage funding and access to networks offered by the angel investment community. Y Combinator is the first known seed accelerator and was started in 2005 by Paul Graham and his team.

Other notable events include:

•  TechStars started in 2007 by David Cohen and Brad Feld – now in 11 cities.

•  Estimates are that approximately 300-2000 exist today in 6 continents – 500 is best guess.

•  Much confusion regarding terminology and classification of models leads to discrepancy in estimates.

• Global Accelerator Network (GAN) started in 2012 and boasts 50 accelerators in 63 cities on 6 continents among its members. TVA has been a member of GAN since its start.

• Originated to inspire start-up eco-system and enhance investments.

Why an accelerator in Telluride?

Thea, in Telluride mode.

Thea, in Telluride mode.

Approximately 12 individuals in the sophomore class of the TVA have made Telluride their home for six months, relocating from as far away as South Africa and India. The cohort includes one local company, a Boulder company and several with founders from Colorado. The Telluride Venture Accelerator (TVA) aims to address how overly dependent we are on real estate, tourism, snow – all things we can’t control – with a proactive effort to diversify and strengthen our community and positively impact the entrepreneurial eco-system in the Telluride region. The program does so in a variety of ways: the more traditional, direct and indirect job creation for companies staying in the region and those establishing permanent relationships with investors and service providers from the region and company investment in the region; and the long-term change impacts, which have already seen Telluride become a destination for entrepreneurs wishing to start technology and non-tech companies. That amounts to evidence that the TVA is helping to alter the eco-system in a positive, entrepreneurial way, which should result in a better balanced, more resilient regional economy. In fact many companies now call Telluride their home because of TVA’s influence on the eco-system – Capture Vascular, Voltaire and Awestruck Dental to name a few.

 How does TVA play out differently from other accelerators?

Telluride’s most unique and compelling asset contributing to the seed accelerators success is its robust mentor and investor community. The seed accelerator model is dependent on the ability to access an experienced and talented group of mentors willing and dedicated to help guide the trajectory of these young firms. Folks willing to devote their time, introduce their contacts and yes, open their check books. TVA has an enviable mentor list that includes folks that don’t just lend their name to the effort – they show up!

 How will TVA evolve?

TVA is a Petri dish in which start-ups evolve and change under controlled conditions.

TVA is a Petri dish in which start-ups evolve and change under controlled conditions.

I see the TVA continuing to provide its seed accelerator as the flagship program with growth in support of high-growth local companies; partnerships with regional service providers to support lifestyle start-ups; more networking opportunities; and exploration of big ideas to continue proving that it can happen here!

Demo Day for the second class of TVA takes place Tuesday, July 1, with road shows in Boulder and San Francisco during the first two weeks of July.

Applications open for the 2015 cohort September 1.

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