The Editors | December 6, 2017 | Lifestyle
For ten weeks this summer, a pilot program incubated in downtown Aspen. In a street-level, open studio space on Hyman Avenue, two partner groups moved in, set up shop, and tested their big idea: can Aspen nurture entrepreneurs?
In the back was a shared workspace with rentable desks run by Aspen Entrepreneurs, a non-profit that supports start-up companies in the Roaring Fork Valley—specifically in the retail, service, outdoors and hospitality sectors. In the front was one of AE’s cohorts, Maker + Place, a concept store selling homeware objects made by independent craftspeople from Aspen and around the globe.
The results? If you wandered in on any given day during business hours you would have walked through a modern-day Willy Wonka-factory of people weaving, crafting, typing on laptops and meeting in casual huddles. The scene was part Silicon Valley and part Brooklyn-artisanal.
Over ten weeks the space hosted 40 networking events, with their final panel discussion on September 20th. The topic was entrepreneurship in ski communities and was co-hosted by University of Colorado Boulder’s Alumni Association. The central question posed to the panelists in front of a packed house was, “Is start-up culture something we should, as a community, embrace?”
Aspen Skiing Company CEO Mike Kaplan answered from the perspective of the largest employer in the valley. The ability to retain employees is in part based on the strength of the community, he explained. “There need to be opportunities for themselves, for their spouses and kids. A variety of employment opportunity helps us and the community.”
Sharon Matusik, the dean of Boulder’s Leeds Business School, spoke of the entrepreneurship fostered in Boulder by partnerships between start-ups and big businesses like Whole Foods. Matusik foresees great synergy between Boulder and Aspen through an exchange of resources, talent and mentorships.
The founder of Maker + Place, Michael Carpenter-Olson, closed the evening by announcing she had proved her proof-of-concept and signed a four-year lease on a new space in downtown Aspen to be shared once again with Aspen Entrepreneurs (614 E. Cooper Ave. opened on December 1st).
Skippy Mesirow, Co-Founder of AE sees the inherent challenges and opportunities in Aspen’s business environment. “We have a unique concentration of intellect, resources and social capital to make things happen here.” AE bucks the Y Combinator model where a mass of nascent companies compete so that a select few survivors can emerge. AE wants all its “co-cubators” to develop competitive models and eventually, to thrive.
Standing in front of a packed house in September, Julie Engels, executive director of AE noted, “this community is hungry for new energy and new ideas.”