An epic new opportunity for small businesses in the mountains

The last straw for Marc Nager, a former All-State high school football player from Mammoth Lakes, California, was after he’d been in a Seattle hospital for a week.

The successful startup founder had poured long hours into his company, wearing himself down to the point of weakening his immune system, and salmonella had turned into a freak infection in his bones — a rarity made possible through his lifestyle (not to mention he was also noticing depression-like symptoms).

Easy access to the outdoors is one of the benefits of mountain life. Photo: Harvey Mogenson
Easy access to the outdoors is one of the benefits of mountain life. Photo: Courtesy of Harvey Mogenson
“Ending up in a place like that, literally incapacitated, it really put in perspective what’s important in life,” Nager, from his new home in Telluride, Colorado, tells GrindTV.

Nager was like many who grow up in picturesque places like Mammoth: After high school ends, they’re faced with the reality of either getting a job at the local ski resort or moving away for school.

Really, it’s the choice between quality of life or career. He chose the latter, paying high rent, eating terrible food, exercising seldom and investing his waking hours into his company.

In the process, he sacrificed the one grounding presence in his life: the outdoors.

“In the outdoors, I find my peace, my inspiration and my creativity,” he says. “Honestly, a lot of my relationships, I find them in the outdoors.”

Small town life is never better than with fresh snow in view. Photo: Harvey Mogenson
Small town life is never better than with fresh snow in view. Photo: Courtesy of Harvey Mogenson
Nager’s job now, as the head of the Telluride Venture Accelerator, is to show others what his illness forced him to see: that a successful life in the mountains doesn’t mean manning a chair lift.

The TVA’s new Mountain Founders contest is part of this. From now until Nov. 4, applications are being accepted for four entrepreneurs or freelancers who want to explore professional life outside of the big city.

Winners receive six-night, seven-day accommodations in Telluride any time in January of 2017, along with workspace access, interaction with local startup founders, and, most importantly, an unlimited lift pass for the nearby resort. Winners will be announced on Nov. 5.

Telluride's downtown is small but filled with small, unique businesses. Photo: Harvey Mogenson
Telluride’s downtown is small but filled with small, unique businesses. Photo: Courtesy of Harvey Mogenson
Nager, who sold his startup a year and a half ago to helm the TVA, says that our culture is changing, and where once people like him had to leave in order to come back, there’s never been a better time to stay.

The increase in technology and the prevalence of the internet has meant that business-people can access the history of the world at their fingertips.

And then there’s the current generation, the often-discussed Millenials (of which this writer is one), who are searching for other paths outside of the corporate ladder, pursuing their passions from the places they love.

“Innovation is possible anywhere now, and it’s not just a form of ‘alternative career path,'” he says. “It’s almost culturally relevant.”

Kelly Watters, one of two founders of fledgling outdoor apparel brand Western Rise, discovered the TVA in October of 2015 and moved west from Georgia to immerse themselves in its program in January the following year.

“We had been looking for some mentors and some advice to help us develop out more of our business side,” says Watters. “We had a lot of traction in sales and social media, and product was going great. But we needed some help on how to scale a business the size that we were.”

Watters described her experience as if she’d taken her business to grad school. She and her partner were in the co-working space every day, meeting with mentors on finances, human resources, marketing, and more. “It was just really great to have actual, practical advice,” she says.

Mountain towns have quiet, beautiful nights. Photo: Harvey Mogenson
Mountain towns have quiet, beautiful nights. Photo: Courtesy of Harvey Mogenson
Western Rise is by far not the only company to come through the program; Felt, an app which allows users to design seemingly hand-written greeting cards, also went through it, and this year appeared on the startup show Shark Tank on ABC.

“We’re looking for hardworking people who love the outdoors and consider themselves entrepreneurs,” Nager says of the contest.

Applicants have a pretty basic set of questions to answer: what you’re working on, why you want to do it in Telluride, along with a picture of you in the outdoors.

Mountain life isn’t for everyone, but for the first time, it’s a whole lot more practical, and Nager’s Telluride Venture Accelerator wants to show you how.

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