Mountain Ventures Summit 2018 Recap
Randy Burge. Attendees & organizers transition between skiing and the conference.
This was my first time to Mountain Ventures Summit and will not be my last. For those out there who are working to build community or businesses in smaller communities this is a valuable collaborative event you should consider going to. In general the purpose of this conference is to bring people together from smaller communities to build stronger entrepreneurial ecosystems.
As someone who builds technology solutions, helps build a technology focused business, and helps build the Roaring Fork Technologists community I found the Mountain Venture Summit to be inspiring on multiple levels. There seems to be over arching themes between small communities yet each is unique with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. At this event everyone came to the table eager to share experiences and help each other. The give-first ethos was alive and well here as people worked through the unique challenges they face. Here are some of the common themes I heard from the group.
Diverse economies are important
A primary goal is to promote diverse economies in mountain communities. This is important for a number of reasons including enabling entrepreneurial growth and stability. A healthy entrepreneurial community would have a diversity that sustains the rise and fall of businesses by reducing reliance on a few larger companies.
Building a strong workforce isn’t easy
Despite the good quality of life offerings in mountain communities, attracting and retaining a strong team is a serious challenge. In a larger city there is generally more professionals that can flow between businesses without too much disruption. However, in smaller communities you often have to bring people to the community, train them, and work to keep them for the long-term in much more meaningful ways than in an urban area. Additionally, it’s incredibly important to support the entire family of a team member. This can include helping with job opportunities for a spouse as well as helping to understand the local school system.
Social silos are real
It never seems to surprise people that you can live in a small community for a long time and still not know people that share professional skills, goals, and industry focus. I heard a story of someone who lived in a small town for 15ish years and just recently met someone who lived in the same town for 20ish years who are industry peers. These silos need to be actively broken down so that local collaboration and support becomes common place.
Micro-industries seem to pop up organically and collaboratively
Sometimes a community will sprout one or more specialties due to a couple individuals. An example was given in Bend Oregon where some climbers started building soft goods that required an industrial sewing machine. As other climbers started to create other soft goods these “competing” businesses began to share the expensive sewing machine which helped to grow a small micro-industry. Maker spaces can also serve a valuable role in a similar capacity while minimizing the burden on individuals.
Co-working spaces are vital to the health and growth of the community
While co-working spaces aren’t necessarily the most lucrative venture from a membership standpoint they serve and indispensable role in the community as a place to bring people together. This has been the sales pitch of co-working spaces for a long time but in mountain communities they are proving to be not just important but vital. With a good physical space and good programming around the space co-working facilities educate and encourage collaboration in a way usually not possible in the past.
Capital opportunities need to be present and evolve to the realities of mountain communities
Many mountain communities have a unique geographic access to investors but new channels for local investment must be established that are tailored to the unique dynamics of smaller entrepreneurial communities. As an example, investors need transparency into understanding how growth and return rates might be lower in mountain communities but those returns are still there. Additionally, investment in local mountain communities has a magnifying effect on the health of the community at large which improves the likelihood of future investment while improving the local community investors love to be a part of.
Silicon Valley is not taking over your mountain town
While technology was a part of the conversation it was not by any means the dominant industry. This is an interesting point considering how much investment goes into technology focused businesses in larger cities. Other industries like textiles, manufacturing, and agriculture have a strong presence in these communities while generally there seems to be less of a technology focus around entrepreneurial ideas. More technology can add to the diversity of these economies in a way that enables other industries through availability of local skill.
Collaboration will drive growth
A strong sentiment from everyone was how we all need to keep working together across communities to essentially operate regionally. It’s important to work with your neighbors where localized advantages exist while at the same time working with others who share mountain community ideals and experiences.
The Future is bright!
We are in the beginning of an explosion of entrepreneurship in our small communities much of which is being enabled by innovative approaches around collaboration and investment. Both private and public sectors are working together to build the physical, social, and financial infrastructure needed to grow more small town entrepreneurship.
Don’t just stay tuned… Get involved!