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Southwest Colorado business accelerator unveils 2020 class

Entrepreneurs ranging from software developers to cider makers chart success in Southwest Colorado
Laurie Sigillito, right, CEO and founder of Local News Network, meets with staff members from left, Bert Carder, COO, Na-than Morris, CTO, and Matt Crossett, production manager, at her Durango home in July. LNN is one of seven companies participating in the 2020 Class of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program.

The Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs, like many events around Durango, reinvented itself for 2020 to deal with restrictions required by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eight companies, some participating for the second time, were chosen to participate in the program that provides education, mentoring and financing for startup and young companies in Southwest Colorado that hold the potential of growing and bringing in new jobs to the region by exporting their products and services across the country, even the world.

Participating companies have traditionally unveiled their pitch for financing during a banquet that included financing pitches, but with the problematic pathogen still banning meeting of more than 10 people, SCAPE unveiled its eight companies via video investment pitches made on SCAPE’s website.

Elizabeth Marsh, director of SCAPE, said in some ways the 2020 format adds some convenience to investors, who can view the pitches on their own schedules and rewatch interesting portions.

Here is a summary of investment pitches made by the seven small, upstart firms chosen for the 2020 SCAPE Class:

Cold Case Gear

This firm based out of Pagosa Springs and founded by Jon Rosenberg, manufactures small, lightweight portable coolers to meet needs of outdoor recreationalists.

Cold Case Gear Founder Jon Rosenberg developed his company at home, but is now looking to scale up a production facility in Pagosa Springs to make Cold Case Gear’s small and efficient mini-coolers aimed at outdoor enthusiasts. Cold Case Gear is among a class of seven startups and young companies participating in 2020’s Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program.

The firm currently makes a small pouch for keeping food, medicine or other items cold during long hikes, or conversely, warm when it’s cold outside and you don’t want items to freeze. The firm also makes cellphone case to protect batteries of cellphones or other electric items from freezing and losing their charge.

The products use Aerogel insulation with airtight zippers in the making of ultralight, ultra-insulating mini-coolers that are waterproof, flexible and don’t loose insulating value when compressed.

Rosenberg expects to begin selling his products during the second quarter of 2021, mainly direct to consumer from the Cold Case Gear website. He expects to sell 4,000 pouches and 5,000 cellphone cases in the quarter and intends to introduce a third product in 2022 and began taking on wholesale accounts.

“I had an ah-ha moment that I couldn’t get out of my head, and I decided to buy some insulation and do a proof of concept,” Rosenberg said. “If it didn’t work, then I could get on with my life. But if it did work then I knew I was on to something.”

EsoTerra Ciderworks

EsoTerra Ciderworks, founded by Jared Scott and Elizabeth Philbrick, looks to take advantage of Montezuma and La Plata counties’ long history of apple growing that dates to the late 19th century, to create artisan, craft hard cider out of the old Mountain Juice factory it recently moved into in Dolores.

EsoTerra Cider, owners Elizabeth Philbrick and Jared Scott, based in Dolores, pour samples and talk about their craft, premium artisan hard ciders from unique, heirloom apple varieties from orchards in Southwest Colorado during the seventh annual SCAPE Startup Showcase and Investor Social held in September 2019 at the Fort Lewis College Ballroom. This year’s SCAPE Showcase was presented through videos available on the organization’s website.
A glass of Crimson Gold hard cider is shown at EsoTerra Ciderworks. EsoTerra, a Dolores cider maker, recently opened its tasting room and is participating in the 2020 Class of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program.

Many Southwest Colorado orchards are now unkempt and undermaintained after commercial agriculture in the early and mid-20th century decimated the market for local apples.

Philbrick said Southwest Colorado’s legacy apple orchards give the region Colorado’s most diverse and densest concentration of apple trees. The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project has inventoried 6,000 apple trees in Southwest Colorado, many of them originally planted to grow fruit for hard cider, and she said only 10% of regional apples make it to market and only 3% goes to existing cideries.

Her estimate is $6.5 million in fruit is falling to the ground and rotting, and she believes EsoTerra can lead a revolution in the small, local apple economy.

“Our solution is simple: Couple the existing local apple supply with the market potential of hard cider then leverage our company’s close proximity to the apples to create a highly profitable, premium hard cider,” she said.

The company has $157,500 worth of cider in its tanks now and expects to make $45 profit per gallon of cider.

EsoTerra is looking for an investment of $25,000 to complete its initial ask last year of $150,000, of which $125,000 was raised.

Impact Fenders

Like EsoTerra Ciderworks, Impact Fenders, which has updated the design and performance of dock bumpers and boat fenders, was also part of last year’s SCAPE class. The firm was started in 2017 by Courtney Gates and Brian Slaughter.

Impact is currently expanding into 1,500 square-feet of new space in its manufacturing facility on Animas View Drive.

Impact Fenders makes all of its products in Durango using modern materials, new technology and a patent-pending design to fabricate marine bumpers and fenders that have flat surfaces, are stackable, are easier to store and are more functional by not rolling off on impact.

In addition, the bumpers and fenders can be used as cushions, and in 2021, are slated to receive the U.S. Coast Guard’s Type 4 throwable flotation device required on boats 16 feet or bigger.

The company has generated $220,000 in revenue in 1½years and has an order for 1,800 dock bumpers from Dock Tech and 300 private label boat fenders orders from MasterCraft for sale in Kentucky.

The firm is currently looking to hire three to four new employees to scale its manufacturing as it grows to a projected value of $10 million by 2025.

Impact seeks an investment of $350,000 to match an equal investment last year. The investment will be used to hire new employees, ramp up production and to expand sales networks.

“Water sports have evolved but the equipment we use to protect our boats have not,” Gates said.

Local News Network

Looking to fill the vacuum created by failing local newspapers, Local News Network seeks to fill the void by creating short-form videos featuring engaging stories that have a long shelf life, evergreen stories that are produced by affiliates using Local News Network’s online distribution model to reach people in their homes or at businesses where people queue, like restaurants.

LNN evolved from founder and CEO Laurie Sigillito’s 2013 purchase of DurangoTV.

Local News Network Durango, fairly familiar to fans at Serious Texas Bar-B-Q as they wait for their ribs, is seen as a model replicable in as many as 3,000 counties across the country that have already lost their local newspaper.

LNN charges affiliates, which produce videos local a one time $25,000 initiation fee to establish its territory and to develop a news brand and 25% of royalties of affiliates’ advertising revenues. Affiliates are responsible for editorial content of videos and selling advertising in their markets.

LNN provides templates for videos, branding assets, billing support and its online distribution platform.

Affiliates are currently online in Durango, Montezuma County, Pagosa Springs and Telluride, and LNN would like to expand to 54 affiliates in three years.

The firm is looking to raise $200,000 as a convertible note, a short-term loan that converts to shares of preferred stock, this year and is looking to raise $300,000 in seed capital in the first half of 2021.

“Our secret sauce is pushing out directly into the community with a proprietary digital out-of-home network,” Sigillito said. “Businesses such as restaurants, sports clubs, grocery stores that have some sort of queue or dwell time, their customers naturally become our captive audience.”

Tectonic Components

Founder Andrew McKee began exploring development of a better platforming bicycle pedal three years ago with 3D printing.

McKee uses carbon fiber material to build a lighter pedal than those made of aluminum that are especially easy to replace damaged traction pins, a particular problem with mountain bikers who lose traction on rides and now can easily fix broken pins.

Injection molding is used in manufacturing, – making the process affordable and repeatable.

In 2018 and 2019, McKee had mountain bikers around La Plata County testing his prototypes, and this year, his pedals are in advanced beta testing.

Pedals will sell for $119, well below competitors’ prices: Deity TMac pedals sell for $169 and Crankbrothers Stamp 11 sell for $300.

McKee plans to sell 1,075 pedals his first year of sales, and by the end of year five, he plans to be selling 4,000 pedals principally using a direct-to-consumer website with some wholesale distribution to selected bike shops.

In the second year of sales, Tectonic plans to introduce a clipless pedal.

Tectonic seeks to raise $150,000 in investment capital that will be used for product development, a marketing campaign, business operations and a patent application.

“Our unique feature is dual-sided traction pins you can strap on either side of the pedal and secure with a bolt from the side,” McKee said. “They ensure all threaded parts are fully replaceable.”

Timber Age CEO Kyle Hanson believes use of beetle-killed ponderosa pine to make cross laminated timber panels can help deal with widespread stands of dead trees in the San Juan National Forest, bring back a small-scale regional lumber industry to Southwest Colorado. Timber Age is one of seven startup and young companies participating in the 2020 Class of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs.
Timber Age

Rocky Mountain communities like Durango have access to local wood resources, but 90% of wood used in Colorado comes from outside the state, a situation Timber Age CEO Kyle Hanson and co-founder Andrew Hawk want to change.

Timber Age will use off-site manufacturing to build cross-laminated wood panels for walls, floors and ceilings in a recently completed buildout of a local manufacturing facility that can produce four ready-to-install wall systems per day.

Hawk said with innovation and additional team members, Timber Age can increase production by 300% all within the same footprint of the current manufacturing plant.

From a base in Durango, Hanson said Timber Age plans to establish additional manufacturing sites in other Western Slope communities that are growing and experiencing high building costs like Durango.

Building costs using cross-laminated wood panels bring down Durango’s average construction cost to $170 per square foot compared with the existing average cost of $230 per square foot.

Cross-laminated wood panels are put together by gluing alternate layers of wood that increase strength, stiffness and straightness compared to traditional stick-framed construction.

Timber Age seeks an investment of $250,000 that would be used for hiring employees, research and development, industry certification of cross-laminated panels, increased production capacity and increased milling capacity.

“Keeping the working circle of raw material to final installation small is the strategic advantage of our operating system,” Hanson said.

Victim Services Tracking

Victim Services Tracking started out six years ago in the trenches when CEO Clarisa Feuilly approached her father, Randy Feuilly, about a problem within the 22nd Judicial District’s Victim Services Unit, which found compiling demographic and service data time-consuming and prone to error that had to be painstakingly edited for accuracy.

Clarissa Feuilly, office manager with the 22nd Judicial District, oversaw grant applications for the Victim Services Unit, and realized her father, who had served as a victim’s advocate in La Plata County and had more than 20 years experience writing computer programs was the perfect person to help her build better software.

“Knowing he could write a database and had experienced this very same frustration, I knew he could help resolve my problem,” she said.

Since that start six years ago, Mancos-based Victim Services Tracking, also known as Online Web Services, now has 600 law enforcement agencies and nonprofits using its software in 32 states.

It is generating $500,000 in annual recurring revenue. Clarissa Feuilly said 85% of the growth has occurred in the last three years.

Victim Services Tracking believes its software can easily be adopted for use by homeless shelters, foster care agencies, nonprofits serving children, senior centers and senior nursing care facilities in addition to its core use among victim service units across the country. Victim Services Tracking estimates the market for software tracking data from these agencies is a $294.31 million market.

In addition, Victim Services Tracking is developing crime tracking software for law enforcement agencies, a market estimated to be $305.35 million.

Clarissa Feuilly said the firm’s law enforcement software is in beta testing with the fourth largest law enforcement agency in the United States, a contract that would be worth more than $150,000 annually from this one client.

Victim Services Tracking is looking to raise $750,000 in investment capital to expand and improve its victim services tracking software, launch sales of its crime tracking software, establish a call center for customer support, hire additional sales staff and an experienced CEO.

“Victim Services Tracking allows our advocates to spend more time with the victims and less time on paperwork,” Clarissa Feuilly said.


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