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Coventuring through the unknown

Coventure's downtown Carbondale co-working space has been quiet since the COVID-19 outbreak. But Coventure itself has been anything but quiet in its pivot to help point the businesses it works with to various economic relief resources and offers advice on how to innovate in the meantime.
John Stroud / Post Independent

Call it the COVID-era Coventure. The Carbondale business incubator has undergone a “180 degree pivot to become a business crisis center since mid-March,” said Coventure executive director Mike Lowe.

The nonprofit’s purpose, according to its website, is “help people do good in the world by helping them become great in business.” While that hasn’t changed, it’s how Coventure goes about it that has.

“Since COVID-19 we’ve had to rethink how we best provide assistance to the valley,” Lowe said.

Coventure is practicing what it preaches, reinventing itself to help businesses reinvent as well. “We’ve evolved to become an organization that is most helpful at this time,” Lowe said.

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Finding alternative revenue strategies

With the economy in upheaval, some companies are seeking ways to make money that were not part of their original business plan.

One example is Carbondale’s Marble Distillery, which is part of a national trend of distilleries making hand sanitizer. As a way to promote the core business, the distillery includes a bottle of sanitizer with every purchase of at least two bottles.

Shoemaker 5028 is also making timely products. “5028 has pivoted to make masks,” Lowe said. On the website, weare5028.com, customers can buy a mask or pay to donate one to an essential worker, and essential workers can get one for free. Or, similar to what Marble Distillery is doing, 5028 will include a mask with the purchase of a pair of shoes.

Another novel way to stay in business is collaboration.

“5028 shoes is working with other local businesses to make gift baskets,” Lowe said.

The baskets include a 5028 mask, Landmark Cafe coffee, Marble Distillery hand sanitizer, Osmia Organics hand cream, CBD tincture from Sopris Health & Wellness, Pollinator Chocolate bars, a Lilybart Journal and a card from The Print Shop Artist Space.

“There’s a great sense of community in the Roaring Fork Valley, and they’re working together to help each other out,” Lowe said.

These reinventions are seen as temporary. “It’s not 5028’s intention to pivot [permanently] from its core product, it’s just taking advantage of a market opportunity. … This is survival,” Lowe said.

“They’re still trying to sell shoes, but gift baskets and masks are saving the day,” Lowe said.

Lowe also pointed out that businesses can use such opportunities to connect new customers with its core products.

Increasing operational efficiency, changing business strategy

Another way to deal with the challenging economy is increasing operational efficiency, which may also include a change in business strategy.

“We help businesses identify new supply chain partners and walk out their inventory needs, we provide ongoing coaching about expanding their business model while also tightening the business model to roll out new products as efficiently as possible with minimal impact on operating capital,” Lowe said.

Carbondale-based mountainFLOW ecowax makes a plant-based ski wax.

”We’re working with them to get a bike lube onto the market this summer,” Lowe said.

The company saw its revenue stream dry up as the pandemic shuttered ski areas.

“We had bike products on our radar for a while, but with COVID it got pushed to front and center. A lot of our retail stores are closed, and ski areas are closed,” owner Peter Arlein said.

Coventure has helped mountainFLOW seek funding and change strategy to launch a new product.

“Coventure has been instrumental in a lot of stuff we’ve done, lately trying to navigate loan options, taking advantage of funding available. It can be tricky as a small company to navigate the options and keep the lights on,” Arlein said.

Arlein said he’s looking into traditional liquid oil-based lubes as well as wax-based lubes.

Anyone interested in a bike lube sample can contact Arlein at peter@mountainflowecowax.com.

Accessing crisis funding

Coventure has been working with 32 entrepreneurs and small businesses over the past five weeks, Lowe said.

“We helped them go after SBA [Small Business Administration] and PPP [federal Paycheck Protection Program] funds. “The businesses have collectively received over $1 million,” he said, clarifying that just eight businesses have received the funds so far.

Retaining talent and saving jobs

Part of saving jobs is certainly getting crisis funding, but Lowe said there’s more to it than that.

“Federal funds are buying companies time,” he said. “We provide business coaching around finding places they can save money in order to save jobs. … It’s about getting creative about cutting salaries and how people work,” he said.

Lowe said this work is ongoing, but the results won’t be known right away.

“All this work will result in no one losing jobs, but that’s a metric we can’t measure until the end of the year,” he said.

Networking with state and local partners

Coventure’s website has a header stating “We are a State-Wide Collaboration Committed to Economic Resilience” above the logos of several businesses and organizations.

”We’re participating in this remarkable network of state and local partners to share information in real time so they can give the best and most up-to-date information so we don’t miss an opportunity,” Lowe said.

“We identified a half-million-dollar grant” that’s COVID related, Lowe said. Anew Energy in Glenwood Springs is working with P4P Solar Energy out of Carbondale to secure the loan.

One of Anew Energy’s products is a 10-foot-tall wind turbine for which the company currently has an order for 200, according to Peter Conarro, owner and co-founder.

P4P designs large-scale solar installations that also provide shade, such as over a parking area. When used over a canal, the website (p4penergy.com) claims, the installation can significantly reduce evaporative water loss.

“We’re teaming up with P4P to add wind turbines on top of solar installations,” Conarro said.

“They wouldn’t have even known about the grant if not for the ‘large conversation.’” Lowe said. “And the support of the larger network is helping push it across the finish line.”

Help the helpers

While Coventure is helping businesses survive the pandemic, it, too, is an organization needing assistance.

“This is a time when we’re leaning into the headwind, but we’re a nonprofit. Support us — we’re in the trenches saving jobs, we’re thinking long term, and we want to be here for those in danger of closing their doors,” Lowe said.

Learn more about Coventure at http://www.coventure.io.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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