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Zuke’s founder shares challenges at SCAPE’s investor showcase

Graduates of Durango entrepreneur program look for backers for their new ideas
Tyler Fischer took this selfie to demonstrate his app, ApresActive, which will create photos showing the paths users take while skiing, running or doing other outdoor activities. The colorful line will show the speed of the user.

The founder of Durango company Zuke’s Natural Dog Treats shared personal challenges and encouragement at a showcase for startups held at Fort Lewis College on Wednesday.

The Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs held the event for its recent graduates and for other local startup companies that have new ideas to pitch to investors.

SCAPE is an intensive six-month program that provides an equity investment and mentoring to entrepreneurs to help them develop a product, launch it and find investors. It is supported by investors, local businesses and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Region 9, La Plata Economic Development Alliance, the city of Durango and the Small Business Development Center.

The program, founded in 2013, has launched 19 companies that employ more than 60 people.

At Wednesday’s showcase, the program invited investors and the public to hear pitches by local entrepreneurs. If any idea interests someone, they can choose to invest in the business.

Four graduates of the SCAPE program talked about their ideas:

Jeff Berman of Distributed Energy Strategies. Berman’s business aims to replace remote power lines with solar power.Carol Clark of Toast Mobile Lounge. Clark’s business uses a mobile trailer that is a bar for parties and business events.Tyler Fischer, Tal-ee Roberts and Guy Ewing of ApresActive. The company’s app uses augmented reality and lets people track and share their activity data.Erin Neer of MuniRevs. Neer has found a niche in her established business that will automate the auditing process for municipalities to find vacation rental units that are not paying sales taxes.Before they presented, Durangoan Patrick Meiering reflected on the journey he took to found his own company, Zuke’s, which he started in his apartment in 1995.

While hiking with his dog, Zuke, Meiering gave his furry companion part of his energy bar so that the chocolate Lab had enough fuel to finish. It was then that he stumbled across the need for his first product: an energy bone for dogs.

Early on in the business’s history, PetSmart stopped carrying his first product, a Power Bone, and developed a knockoff version.

“It was harsh, but it was reality,” he said.

Later the company that makes PowerBars threatened him with a lawsuit, which in turn prompted Meiering to name the company after his dog.

When his company wasn’t growing as fast as he envisioned, Meiering took time to focus on why he founded his company – his love for dogs – which sparked new ideas and products.

“I needed to tune into what was more important, more powerful and more meaningful,” he said.

His response was the same when another large company created more knockoff versions of his products.

“I dug deeper and deeper in the values of the company,” he said.

Meiering eventually decided to sell Zuke’s to Nestlé Purina PetCare in 2013. It was the authenticity of Zuke’s that attracted the larger company.

He advised the SCAPE graduates and other business owners to understand what they want to offer consumers and to offer it with integrity.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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