Carbondale is revered as an unparalleled jumping off point for adventure and recreation, but “business incubator” is probably not a descriptor most would associate with the outdoorsy mountain town. Local forward-thinking nonprofit GlenX is looking to change that by encouraging valley entrepreneurs. Last week, the organization awarded $10,000 to Lucas Turner, one of fifteen contestants with a business startup idea who participated in the Incubator Pitch Competition.
The impetus for the pitch competition arose from GlenX’s existing programs to foster creativity and turn business concepts into reality. The organization currently offers a complimentary 24/7 workspace to budding entrepreneurs in the Third Street Center. After founder and president Altai Chuluun raised the funds, Jonathan Stokely, a consultant for the Small Business Development Council, offered his support free to all participants. Stokely has worked with a range of businesses, from Fortune 100 companies to smaller mom-and-pop operations.
Originally, about 30 individuals expressed interest in the competition, but that number fell to 15 by “natural attrition,” according to Stokely. The remaining contestants met on successive weeknights to prepare for the first round of the competition, an open evening at the Third Street Center where five finalists were chosen by a combination of four judges’ votes and audience votes. To prepare, competitors met with Stokely and others in the GlenX space to perfect their startup pitches and think through their proposals. They were asked to identify the problem and solution, explain why people should care, and develop “the ask,” all in a 30-second “elevator pitch.” Having perfected that quick speech, the contestants then worked on a more thorough two-minute pitch deck that included factors such as marketing needs and projected expenses and revenue. They delivered both the elevator pitch and the more detailed pitch deck before a live audience.
“They were really thinking about business and the different parts of it that might be less sexy than saving the world’s problems,” said Stokely of the preparation process. “The overall goal is how do we improve and increase entrepreneurialism in the valley, so we’re less dependent on tourism? The more businesses we have from the community members that make up the valley, the more sustainable our community will be to grow, raise families, and celebrate the life we love.”
On March 22, all 15 competitors took the stage before a crowd of about 100. Judging the competition were four business owners who themselves are involved in GlenX’s Accelerator program. They were Elinor Fish of Run Wild Retreats, Lynn Aliya of SpeakEasy, Merrill Johnson of Cedar Ridge Ranch, and Lacy Hughes of Silo. Each audience member was given three poker chips and directed to cast votes at the end of the evening for their favorite entrepreneurs, based on their presentation and the viability of their idea.
The final few
Five contestants emerged victorious from that event and convened March 29 for a final elimination round and a shot at the $10,000. Those finalists were:
- Andrea Orrego with Atelier (atelier-app.com), a home design app that lets users play with all the options available to decorate any living space, while controlling their budget and teaching them some of the finer points of design.
- Lucas Turner with Level Ahead, a podcast production company he intends to launch locally to help valley businesses, organizations, radio stations, and individuals bring their messages to life with podcasts.
- David Kodama with Hush Cube, a lease-to-buy soundproof booth that could be placed in airports, stadiums, and noisy offices to improve productivity and offer a quiet place to work.
- Ned Montgomery with Budworx, an app that would link employers to employees in the legal marijuana industry, as well as provide a ratings system to evaluate professional experiences.
- Lee Cherry with Venture Locally Expeditions (venturelocally.com), a sustainable travel company offering authentic experiences and seeking to use the power of responsible tourism to invest in local farmers around the world.
“It’s been an adventure,” said Montgomery before the finals. “I’ve been learning about the business side of things, to be more organized, and have more self-confidence.
It’s a dream maker and a life changer.”
The five finalists gave both their elevator pitches and polished pitch decks to five judges from the business community. They were renowned philanthropist Jim Callaway, Connie Baker of the Marble Distillery, franchise owner Matt Spidell, ANB Bank President Deana Hermanson, and Ken Murphy, the owner of Glenwood Adventure Company.
They awarded the $10,000 prize to Lucas Turner. “I feel amazing,” Turner said moments after receiving the check. “I’m really excited about starting this business and I think it’s going to be amazing for the valley to have this brand new media company.” He is accepting new clients and can answer questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Turner will join the four judges from the first round of competition, as well as one other business, to participate in a GlenX Accelerator program, The Entrepreneur + Investor Confluence in Carbondale on April 13. They will have a chance to meet investors and potentially walk away with additional funds to move their businesses forward.
Ken Murphy explained why he voted for Turner’s podcast company. “I was looking for something local that would benefit our community,” he said. “I see Lucas having an impact on our business community. I think there’s a need for it. I think jobs might come from it sooner or later.”
His advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs? “Don’t ever hesitate asking. What’s the worst people can say? Don’t take ‘no’ personally.”