Midway through its second year, the ICELab on the campus of Western State Colorado University continues to provide community work space and two programs to foster start-up businesses: an incubator and an accelerator.
Now, ICELab staff are preparing for the next big adventure — an industry-specific accelerator which will bring outside businesses to the Western campus for further development.
An accelerator is an intensive program designed for businesses that are ready to seek outside capital for expansion, whereas an incubator is meant to support the “launch, growth, stabilization and long-term success” of business start-ups.
The project began through a conversation with representatives from the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) in Denver. GAN put ICELab staff in touch with three groups: Outdoor Industry Association, AIM Media and trade group Outdoor Retailer. Those groups just happened to be looking for an outdoor industry accelerator.
“We all hit GAN basically within a two week period of time,” said ICELab Director Delaney Keating of the four entities. “We knew an industryspecific accelerator would be a really attractive model.”
GAN’s Global Partnerships coordinator Taylor Sanders assisted the ICELab in pursuing the new accelerator. GAN represents 103 accelerators worldwide which have undergone a stringent application process, and it fosters connections between those programs, start-up businesses and corporate groups. The ICELab is one of those accelerators in the network.
Sanders said once ICELab staff had the right connections, the rest was a “no brainer” because the local program was such a qualified candidate. She indicated this new program could take the ICELab to the next level of development.
“I think what’s interesting for us is that we were watching it but we weren’t chasing it,” Keating said of the industry-specific program. “It has been a real organic, natural fit for us.”
ICELab Director of Programming Dan Marshall agreed.
“With product testing and where we are geographically with public lands, within 30 minutes you’re into any type of recreation you want to jump into — winter or summer,” Marshall said.
This week, the ICELab began accepting applications from companies that want to participate in the accelerator. The closing date for those applications is Sept. 22. Companies selected for the program will be announced in November at the Outdoor Retail Show in Denver.
The accelerator will begin in January and be conducted over three months. Business representatives will spend about 70 percent of their time on the Western campus, Keating said.
They will receive a membership to the Outdoor Industry Association, a booth at the Outdoor Retail Show in Denver and marketing assistance from Aim Media. The ICELab will also have a booth at the Outdoor Retailer show in what is known as “start-up alley.”
Possible boost to revenue
Additionally, the accelerator offers good news for ICELab revenue. ICELab is halfway through its $650,000 federal Economic Development Association grant which ends in September 2019.
Keating said the ICELab will be paid to run the accelerator here. Although she did not disclose numbers because funding for the project is still being pursued, she estimated a well-run accelerator program could net about $500,000.
GAN’s Sanders said that because the Economic Development Association grant restricted the ICELab to only serve start-ups in Gunnison and Delta counties, having a program that draws clients from a worldwide base helps to add to its sustainability.
“Obviously it means more revenue,” said Sanders. “You can run additional programs and not rely so heavily on government funding.”
Beyond the finances, Keating said the program will expand the ICELab’s reputation statewide and nationally.
“While they are here, it really helps Gunnison Valley become known as a place for outdoor industry start-ups,” said Keating.
The timing of the accelerator couldn’t be better for students participating in a new Outdoor Industry Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Western, which launches for the fall semester.
A natural partnership
The two-year, online graduate program includes an MBA core as well as specific tracks for either the product or service side of the outdoor-recreation economy. It also will include residencies, immersion experiences and guest lectures from outdoor industry experts.
Pete Sherman, dean of Western’s School of Business, said discussions are underway to determine ways MBA students can assist the accelerator businesses while working toward their degree. Students who are close to receiving their degrees could provide assistance to these accelerator businesses as part of a capstone project.
“Basically these students who have nearly completed their MBA working under the guidance of a Ph.D. in the specific area could take on a marketing project or a capital budgeting project for them that otherwise they probably wouldn’t know where to begin,” said Sherman.
Launching the accelerator program is not without its challenges. While partnerships have been formed and the application process is underway, lodging must still be found. Still, Keating and Marshall seemed confident about finding a solution.
Keating continued to extol why the outdoor industry accelerator works for the area.
“We weren’t trying to stake our claim in the (outdoor industry) game,” said Keating. “We realized we already had it.”