Carbondale-based Coventure puts up big numbers for locally grown businesses
Carbondale’s business accelerator has gotten results — nearly 15 million of them, in fact.
Coventure, a non-profit organization encouraging business development in Carbondale and the region, has helped local companies raise nearly $15 million in venture capital, according to Mike Lowe, executive director for the organization.
Some of that money has come from venture capital firms out of state, some has come from western Colorado investment groups, and some has come from a fledgling venture capital club called the Roaring Fork Angels, managed by Coventure.
Coventure’s second annual pitch night in April helped six businesses raise capital from various investors. But helping to raise funds is only part of Coventure’s story so far.
“There’s a lot to share, a lot we’re proud of, and a lot we’re still working on,” Lowe told the Carbondale Board of Trustees during a work session Sept. 17.
Coventure wants to train business owners to be strategic in growing revenue, and offers a number of business accelerator and incubator programs.
One success story is Elinor Fish, who participated in the 2018 accelerator before GlenX rebranded and expanded as Coventure.
“The things that I learned and then applied to my business helped me have a 50 percent increase in revenue in 2019 over 2018,” Fish said.
Fish is CEO of Run Wild Retreats + Wellness, which offers trail running excursions for women around the world. The acceleration program was geared toward training entrepreneurs to pitch investors, but the training was still useful, Fish said.
In looking at her own business as an investor might, Fish said she realized what she needed to do to increase revenue.
The town of Carbondale and Garfield County are both partners of Coventure, which expanded from GlenX late in 2018.
Coventure’s success is tracking in the right direction, Lowe said.
The training programs, called ProServe, is growing. To date, 110 people have participated in the program, according to a Coventure presentation.
It’s not generating quite as much as Lowe had hoped.
The program brought in $20,000 of a $25,000 goal. Coventure is trying to bring in as many people who are passionate about creating new businesses as possible, and ended up giving out more than $15,000 in scholarships.
One area that hasn’t grown as expected is the coworking space, housed on the first floor of the Spruce Building on Main Street in Carbondale.
The space is still important in attracting “digital nomads,” entrepreneurs and those who work remotely for larger firms, but it hasn’t taken off.
The upper floors of the building, on the other hand, are nearly full with local businesses renting office space.
For Mayor Dan Richardson and others on the town board, one of Coventure’s most exciting successes was the creation of the local investment club.
“What better way to invest in local businesses than to have local community members making that investment, rather than some bank in New York City that doesn’t really know the people?” Richardson said in an interview.
Coventure has worked with a variety of companies. Among the companies that received seed funding from working with Coventure were local software firms, a home design application, a restaurant and a solar panel company.
Not all the investment came from local investors. Some came from Sillicon Valley and beyond, but Lowe believes funding from multiple sources is positive.
“We feel like we’re connecting the dots in an interesting way,” Lowe said.
The local investors are somewhat handpicked. “We’re a mission-driven organization, so we’ve been seeking out mission-driven investors,” Lowe said.
“Some of the heaviest hitters in the valley are involved in the investor club,” he added.
Richardson said that local investors are “much more likely to invest in the right type of business. To me, that’s a business that is going to be sustainable and better suited for our community,” Richardson said.
When Lowe approached the town in November 2018 asking for $25,000 a year for three years, several trustees were skeptical of the partnership.
The town eventually approved $20,000 for programming, and for next year may be willing to increase support to $25,000.
“I had a good deal of skepticism last year, but I’m really impressed,” said town Trustee Marty Silverstein at the work session.
Silverstein said he appreciates that Coventure is helping to create jobs that go beyond retail.
“I think we have good return on investment,” Silverstein added.
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