Boulder Startup Week: Innovation in rural startups

BOULDER — While Colorado’s Front Range cities have become startup hubs over the past two decades, that culture of innovation isn’t limited to Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins. Entrepreneurs are also thriving in the state’s rural areas, environments that bring their own benefits and challenges to startups.

That was the message from the Entrepreneurial Stories and Insights from Outside the Front Range session Wednesday afternoon at Boulder Startup Week. The session was moderated by Erick Mueller, adjunct professor and executive director of the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

Rural startups can face challenges in attaining resources, personnel and funding, said panelist Delaney Keating, executive director of Startup Colorado, a peer-to-peer network that connects rural entrepreneurs, funders and small-business owners and helps them access educational and financial assistance.

“In a city, you have different types and density of resources,” Keating said. “One of our goals is to provide that rurally.”

One of the chief resources that rural startups can have trouble finding is people for their workforce. Panelist Olivia Pederson, the Telluride-based founder of the green-living app Sustaio, said the limited housing availability in the town and seasonal nature of its population make thinking about scaling the company difficult. 

But there are also benefits to starting a tech company in a small town, she said.

“There is such a strong community here,” Pederson said. “It’s exciting to be in a rural community and be in a startup because the community is so willing to help.”

Rural entrepreneurs also have the opportunity to create deep, long-term relationships with their communities that can become self-sustaining, said panelist Robin Hall, CEO of Town Hall Outdoor, a Steamboat-Springs-based startup that creates sustainable outdoor apparel for kids. 

“Being authentic and building trust comes back to you in terms of sales and followers and building a community,” Hall said. 

Hall also said that building partnerships with incubators and nonprofits in traditional urban startup hubs is also very important to help share expertise with rural startups and introduce rural startup projects into urban markets. 

When asked what advice they would give to aspiring rural entrepreneurs, the panelists said the most important thing is to ask for help and admit what you don’t know.

“If you find something you don’t know, pick up a book about it,” Pederson said. 

Said Hall: “There are no dumb questions. Just ask the question.”

Entrepreneurs should also take advantage of the supportive climate of rural communities to seek help from neighbors and other local business leaders, Keating said. 

“Rural communities operate differently,” Keating said. “That’s an asset. There’s an army dedicated to the success of rural entrepreneurs.”

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BOULDER — While Colorado’s Front Range cities have become startup hubs over the past two decades, that culture of innovation isn’t limited to Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins. Entrepreneurs are also thriving in the state’s rural areas, environments that bring their own benefits and challenges to startups.

That was the message from the Entrepreneurial Stories and Insights from Outside the Front Range session Wednesday afternoon at Boulder Startup Week. The session was moderated by Erick Mueller, adjunct professor and executive director of the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

Rural startups can face challenges in attaining resources, personnel and funding, said panelist Delaney Keating, executive director of Startup Colorado, a peer-to-peer network that connects rural entrepreneurs, funders and small-business owners and helps them access educational and financial assistance.

“In a city, you have different types and density of resources,” Keating said. “One of our goals is to provide that rurally.”

One of the chief resources that rural startups can have trouble finding is people for their workforce. Panelist Olivia Pederson, the Telluride-based founder of the green-living app Sustaio, said the limited housing availability in the town and seasonal nature of its population make thinking about scaling the company difficult. 

But there are also benefits to starting a tech company in a small town, she said.

“There is such a strong community here,” Pederson said. “It’s exciting to be in a rural community and be in a startup because the community is so willing to help.”

Rural entrepreneurs also have the opportunity to create…