Carbondale board split on support of business incubator
The Carbondale Board of Trustees heard a proposal for a public-private partnership Tuesday that promises economic development, but some say the price is too great.
Coventure, which is a rebranded and expanded version of the shared workplace provider and entrepreneurial training nonprofit GlenX, requested $25,000 from Carbondale for 2019 to expand business incubation and educational efforts.
For half of the six board members present, the one-time grant was a one-time opportunity to actively support business development in the town.
The rest of the board needed more information before approving the request, and brought up a number of concerns, ranging from questioning the process of the request to the amount.
Mike Lowe, founder of Glenwood Adventure Co. and co-founder of GlenX, along with Tyler Moebius, founder of FastG8 and chairman of the Coventure board of directors, presented the plans for the partnership.
Moebius purchased a building in downtown Carbondale that will serve as Coventure’s future headquarters, with co-working space, office rentals and classrooms for startup education programs. Renovations of the space have already begun, and GlenX has used it for some events.
“We’re about co-working, incubation, acceleration and venture capital,” Lowe said. It’s not only about what’s happening in Carbondale, but will “provide a flagship example of what’s possible in this kind of space,” he said.
Coventure needs the $25,000 from Carbondale, as well as $25,000 from Garfield County, in order to qualify as a public-private partnership eligible for a Small Business Development Council grant of $50,000. Those funds, plus revenue from office and workspace rentals and donations and grants from other sources, will give Coventure enough for $250,000 in operating expenses needed for next year.
The group would focus on a number of activities, including co-working space like GlenX manages at the Third Street Center, and business incubation and acceleration — GlenX has helped Marble Distillery, restaurant The Way Home, and other local businesses.
Coventure’s leaders also believe it can become an economic driver for the entire Roaring Fork Valley by creating an “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” as more entrepreneurs share ideas while working in Carbondale, according to a feasibility study presented to the Carbondale board.
“I can’t think of a better way to address economic development right now,“ Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson said of the partnership.
Trustee Erica Sparhawk raised concerns about the other funding sources, and said for her support she would need to see more documentation of funding commitments and signed leases for office space rentals.
“You might be surprised at the level of scrutiny we dive into,” Sparhawk said of the standard process for government grants. She was critical of the lack of clarity in the business plan. “I know things are moving quick, but there’s a level of detail missing,” Sparhawk said.
Other members raised concerns about the amount of the request, and said it was too much for a town of Carbondale’s size.
“We have groups, really great groups, that impact young people’s lives, helping to keep them out of the judicial system, helping to keep them safe,” Trustee Marty Silverstein said. “We can’t even give them $2,500. And you’re asking for 10 times that.”
Supporters among the trustees said the cost of missing the opportunity far outweighs the cost to the town now. Trustee Ben Bohmfalk noted that town revenue is up for 2018, but that the good times are not guaranteed to last.
“When that recession hits, which it inevitably will, if we have this kind of business incubator going and a place for people to go in and get mentored, all that kind of positive stuff, we are going to be in such a better position to ride that one better,” Bohmfalk said.