Southwest Colorado is a nice place to live, with stunning vistas and amazing outdoor opportunities.
That fortunate mixture has proved ideal in supporting the success of the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs, a 7-year-old economic development program that helps startup and early-stage companies thrive and bring high-quality jobs to the region.
Gary Masner, SCAPE co-founder and member of its board of directors, who has worked for startups and billion-dollar corporations, exemplifies the type of Southwest Colorado retiree upon whom SCAPE has come to rely to create a network of dozens of former CEOs, heads of research divisions and other skilled professionals. They serve as SCAPE mentors for Southwest Colorado startups and early-stage companies looking to develop thriving businesses in the shadows of the San Juan Mountains.
“People have come here in retirement, and they have skills and experiences that are beneficial, and we are very fortunate that they want to give back,” Masner said after the SCAPE Startup Showcase and Investor Social held Tuesday night at the Fort Lewis College Ballroom.
He added, “There is an opportunity you have here that you might not get in a lot of other places. For startups, it’s invaluable to have mentors and investors, and we have quite skilled people who have retired here and they want to be part of the community and they want to help.”
In his years in business, Masner admits to making his own share of mistakes, so he knows what works and what doesn’t.
“I think my core strength is business and finance strategy. I can help companies get off the ground, as well as formalizing exit strategies for people who want to sell their business.”
Masner earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, prior to his MBA from Stanford University.
He credits his time at McKinsey and Co., international consultants, as providing him with valuable experience in working on business strategy with companies in various industries. Additional experience includes running a computer company, 10 years in venture capital and starting and selling two companies.
SCAPE, he said, is a program that requires a lot of collaborative efforts and pooling the talents of skilled supporters to make it work.
It’s a formula the program has manged to solve and replicate in large part because of the strength of business experience from the region’s retirees.
SCAPE has helped 31 companies, and two of its alumni have been named to the “Colorado Companies to Watch” list, which was developed by a consortium of financial institutions to increase awareness of startup successes in the state. SCAPE has raised $20 million in capital to assist startups. The 31 companies it has assisted have created more than 90 jobs.
SCAPE, established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, is a public-private partnership with a mission to create more high-growth, job-creating companies in Southwest Colorado through its accelerator program for startup and early-stage companies. The accelerator provides access to education, intense mentoring and investment funding.
Jared Scott, master cidermaker and co-founder of EsoTerro Cider, located in Dolores, said the education he’s been provided by SCAPE has helped wash away inaccuracies he’s had about starting a business.
“The biggest thing it helped me with,” he said, “was to get real serious about starting a business. I was very naive about how much work is needed to start a business.”
He said SCAPE helped him and fellow co-founder Elizabeth Philbrick settle on the legal structure for their business, which makes craft hard apple cider from apples that have largely been discarded in hundreds of orchards around Southwest Colorado.
SCAPE has helped with other decisions, Scott said. It helped EsoTerra form a board of directors, and EsoTerra’s mentors have gone over its financials “with a fine-tooth comb.”
Scott said, “The networking access alone is invaluable. They have access to all these skilled people who want us to succeed.”
Stephanie Carton, founder, owner and designer of The Eli Monster and Sew Modestly, credits SCAPE with providing her with the assurance she has attained basic business competencies. Ensuring those nuts and bolts competencies, she said, will ensure her passion and talent for designing sewing patterns will be given the best chance to blossom in a startup.
“It allows companies to become competent,” she said. “You have the knowledge that you were unsure of before.”
Masner is now working to build the fourth version of SCAPE’s Investment Fund, which will provide backing for EsoTerra Cider, The Eli Monster and the other members of the 2019 SCAPE class.
The three previous SCAPE investment funds have not lost money. The first fund, SIF1, has earned 2.8 times return on investment after three years; the second fund, SIF2, has a 3.9 times return on investment after two years; and the third investment fund SIF3, has a 2.1 times return on investment after only a single year.
SCAPE is currently seeking interested investors for its fourth investment fund, SIF4. SCAPE expects to reach its goal of raising $400,000 for the fund by the end of October.