Putting the Venture into Venture Philanthropy

Telluride, Colo., a picturesque historical mining town perched just below 9,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains, has a rich history of innovation, invention, and reinvention. The well-known collaboration between LL Nunn, Nikola Telsa, and George Westinghouse in 1891 forever changed the delivery of energy. The mining era transformed the region into an economic engine that produced hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and employed thousands. And the 1970s and 1980s brought about the region’s transformation into a world-class skiing and tourism destination.

The Telluride Venture Accelerator (TVA) is an innovative initiative of the Telluride Foundation that seeks to usher in a new period of innovation and reinvention. TVA will help Telluride thrive by creating new economic activity and diversification, new jobs, and start-ups businesses. With the advent of cloud computing, technology fueled commerce, examples across the country of thriving rural entrepreneurship, and a body of evidence on the elements to support and accelerate entrepreneurship, TVA aims to leverage these opportunities in Telluride. TVA’s overarching goal is to launch and grow new, high-growth businesses from Telluride through a business competition for entrepreneurs that includes mentoring, work space, and follow-on investment opportunities. TVA is inviting applicants from across the country and requires that the businesses target a national market.

TVA is an annual contest seeking emerging entrepreneurswith innovative business ideas and nascent businesses. Applicants must have been established within the last five years and be generating less than $1 million in revenue. Three finalists will be selected to receive a $30,000 cash award to move their business forward. The finalists must relocate to Telluride for six months, where they will be provided shared office space and access to mentors who will cultivate and advance their business endeavors. TVA will tap Telluride’s unique community of successful entrepreneurs and investors to serve as mentors. These professionals are eager to lend their skills and expertise in the service to Telluride. At the conclusion of the six months, the finalists will have the opportunity to present their businesses for potential follow-on investment to an exclusive circle of Telluride’s emerging angel investor network.

Playing to Telluride’s unique strengths, TVA is the first accelerator of its kind to focus on outdoor recreation, tourism, natural products, health, energy, water, and education. For its inaugural year, TVA will not consider biotech, manufacturing-based businesses, restaurants, or businesses solely-focused on the Telluride market. Priority will be given to technological products and services (such as software, mobile, mobile apps, and hardware). Building on Telluride’s geographical location, TVA participants will have access to the resources of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which is offering exposure to LANL-created commercially-viable technologies and access to their researchers and scientists (who may also serve as mentors).

Entrepreneurship is a well-known and effective driver for rural economic development. TVA is designed to ignite and sustain entrepreneurism through proactive and targeted philanthropy. This venture philanthropy, however, is not without risk for the Telluride Foundation. Start-ups are risky and some will fail. Some people may feel this is not the “traditional” role of philanthropy. For the Telluride Foundation, we feel it is time to embrace the vision and opportunity of venture philanthropy as embodied in TVA, in order to create transformational social and economic impact for our community.

TVA is now accepting applications through mid-November for its inaugural 2013 contest. To learn more and to apply, go to www.TellurideVA.com.

Paul Major is president and CEO of the Telluride Foundation

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