The spirit of entrepreneurship runs deep in Telluride, from L.L. Nunn’s financing of the world’s first AC plant to power the Gold King Mine to Joseph Zoline’s transformation of the area into a world-class ski resort. Through an innovative program at the Telluride High School (THS), students are learning the skills needed to follow in the footsteps of such enterprising visionaries.
Now finishing its second year, the THS Entrepreneurship Program under the direction of and founded by Stephanie Hatcher attracts students interested in solving community problems through innovation. After completing a prerequisite class, intrepid student entrepreneurs can enroll in Entrepreneurship 2.0, a course that guides students through the development of business plans and matches them with expert mentors from the Telluride Venture Network (TVN) to bring their concepts to fruition. While the class runs the full semester, mentors meet weekly with students over an eight-week period in February and March.
Armed with an entrepreneurial mindset, classroom curriculum and paired with TVN mentors, students Quincey Faust, Jacob Fortner and Caleb Slosberg set out to build three businesses.
Faust observed the lack of green space in several area neighborhoods, which proved to be the inspiration for her business. She recognized that affordable-housing communities suffer from heat island effects and diminished property values because of limited green areas, but they also lacked the resources to do anything about it. So, she created the company Community Roots.
“My company seeks to plant in right-of-way spaces in order to green concreted areas. Community Roots solves this problem by building a stakeholder engagement model between project sites, volunteers and philanthropists,” Faust explained.
Although she was unsure that her business was viable, her mentors Matt Ellis and Tom Kingzett, while supportive, challenged her ideas and encouraged critical thinking. Their advice and her research helped shape her final business plan into a nonprofit with a mission to benefit low-income neighborhoods. She is extremely thankful for the opportunity to participate in the program and appreciates the time she spent with Ellis and Kingzett acquiring “real world” skills that transfer beyond the project and classroom and prepare her for future endeavors. When asked about the most rewarding part of mentoring, Ellis shared, “Seeing Quincey work through the concepts of building a business.” Tom added, “Working with inspired young people in their startup ventures.”
Living in a remote mountain town, Telluride residents and visitors don’t have access to the convenience of services like Uber, Lyft, Door Dash or Instacart typically available in larger metro areas. Looking to tackle this problem, Fortner designed JoyFuel, a transportation and delivery service. In collaboration with his mentors Todd Stockard and Brian Minnehan, Fortner defined and revised his business model based on market surveys and data gathering, and then moved on to developing customer acquisition strategies and financial modeling. When asked about the coaching he received from his mentors he said, “I learned the power of Excel in creating a business model. From determining subscription prices to reviewing business expenses and evaluating potential revenue streams, my mentors worked with me to chart out possible scenarios that helped shape my business plan and build the right business model that will make JoyFuel profitable.”
He added that working with accomplished entrepreneurs gave him insight into the business world and the inner workings of startups that could not be learned solely in the classroom. Stockard and Minnehan spent 15 hours with Fortner over the course of the program, which they characterized as a minimal time commitment. In return, they received the satisfaction of helping a young entrepreneur.
“It was really great observing Jacob develop his financial modeling skills. For a while, it was Excel 101 training. But as his spreadsheet skills evolved, he became very proficient with his projections,” Stockard said, adding Fortner’s enthusiasm was contagious.
Slosberg has often felt stymied by the lack of desirable styles available when shopping for branded sports apparel. This shopping scenario became the impetus for his new business, SlossySports, where customers can customize clothing for middle and high school teams by choosing colors, style and fit. In addition to receiving guidance from Hatcher in the classroom, Slosberg gained valuable insight from his mentors Carol Keogh and Tom Fatur, which influenced his final business model.
“Carol and Tom provided such a professional and creative perspective on how to build a company. It was incredible to have real entrepreneurs helping me build my business. During the mentorship, I learned a lot about the process of creating a startup,” Slosberg said. “Most importantly, I learned that you first need to get customer feedback, which technically makes sense, but when I first started, it was something that I never thought about. You always think your idea is perfect and will be successful. But I learned that very often people don’t want what you think they want, and you need to adapt your business.”
At 14, he learned several lessons on his entrepreneurial journey from creating a proof of concept to testing the viability of a product. Both mentors enjoyed working with the young entrepreneur and would recommend the mentor experience to anyone who has started or managed a successful business.
All three students “highly recommend” the THS Entrepreneurship Program to their fellow students interested in learning how to start a business.
“This class encourages its students to be self-driven, communicative, and to take steps to have community engagement, which is a truly unique experience when compared to other classes THS offers,” Faust said.
Students interested in taking this course must first complete a prerequisite, Entrepreneurship 1.0. Over two years, approximately 80 students have participated in the innovative program.
The THS Entrepreneurship Program gives preference to mentors from the TVN mentorship program because their “business experience aligns with a curriculum that is steeped in design thinking principles to build businesses with a solid value proposition and product-market fit,” Hatcher explained.
TVN supports regional entrepreneurship through a variety of initiatives and was pleased to partner with THS.
“Fostering and encouraging entrepreneurship at an early age is just another way we can help support our young people to make a positive impact in our community and is the reason we continue to partner with the THS Entrepreneurship Program,” TVN Managing Director Bonnie Watson explained. “Our mentors are always excited to work with the students and we are always impressed by the problems they are actively trying to solve.”
If you are interested in participating as a mentor in the TVN mentorship program, complete our mentor form at tellurideventurenetwork.com/mentor or contact network manager Annemarie Jodlowski at [email protected].
Launched in 2013 as an initiative of the Telluride Foundation, TVN is a nationally recognized, award-winning entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports new, innovative and growing businesses. TVN’s mission to diversify the regional economy has resulted in over 80 graduating companies, hundreds of new jobs, millions of investment dollars raised, thousands of hours of mentoring, and the birth of high-impact efforts such as the Telluride Venture Fund and the San Juan Regional Loan Fund.