Sunday, July 12, 2020

ICELab completes new accelerator program for local businesses

“We are finding a lot of synergies between the three companies”

By Kendra Walker

Three Crested Butte-based companies—Blister Review, Camp 4 Coffee and Third Bowl Homemade Ice Cream—recently completed the ICELab’s new accelerator program.

ICELab, TAPP’s entrepreneur hub at Western Colorado University, designed the new program to help companies already established in the Gunnison Valley take their business to the next level. This steered away from ICELab’s other entrepreneur programs, which typically focus on helping new businesses get started. Internet Colorado was part of the original inaugural class this fall but was unable to continue due to personal reasons.

ICELab worked with each company over eight weeks to identify strategies and solutions for growth and improvement. The program spanned October and November with the option to extend into December, which all three companies did. “That was a testament to the program,” said ICELab director David Assad. “It shows we weren’t wasting anyone’s time and we were achieving the goals we were looking to accomplish for each company.”

According to Assad, the companies were chosen based on the following criteria: they have five or more employees; they already have established revenue; they have five or more years of experience running the business; they have a desire to grow the business on a higher level; and they are poised to bring revenue in from outside of Gunnison County. 

“We are finding a lot of synergies between the three companies,” said Assad. “We found ways for them to work together in marketing and sales within their own audiences.” An example, he said, was Blister including Camp 4 Coffee in their list of suggested gifts for the holidays. “As we bring all these people together, they’re all willing to work together and collaborate, and that network will continue to grow and help them as we pull in other companies moving forward,” said Assad.

After the first couple of weeks of familiarization, the ICELab team and Denver consulting firm Fluent worked with each participating company to identify areas for improvement and looked at big-picture questions. 

For example, how do you hire and keep good talent? What would your company look like if it grew by 10 times? How are you using social media to effectively market to new audiences? From there, the team would hone in on each company’s individual goals to identify opportunities for growth and have the companies conduct a series of tests using social media, promotions, customer outreach, etc. and report back.

Jonathan Ellsworth, founder of Blister, spoke highly of the ICELab accelerator program. “David and Darcie [Perkins] are just fantastic folks to be heading this up and we’re fortunate to have those two,” he said of the ICELab team. “I think they are real assets and I’m thrilled that they are running the ICELab.”

The Blister gear review site was founded in 2011 and has a core group of five employees and an expanded freelance network of about 50 reviewers. 

Ellsworth explained one of the biggest takeaways of the program for him. “When you’ve got smart people who you trust, who are willing to look at what you’re doing, there’s the possibility that you’ll uncover some low-hanging-fruit opportunities. I work really hard, everybody in that accelerator does. We’ve got a pretty clear vision of the things we’re trying to do and we have a vision for where we’re going. When you’re running very fast and very hard, week in and week out, there’s likely an opportunity where you’re missing some obvious and easy ways to improve,” he said. 

Al Smith of Camp 4 Coffee agreed. “ICELab has been really useful in pushing us to try to go after all these things faster than we would organically or wouldn’t have tried, so there’s a value there,” he said. “They’re working really hard, and it’s ended up worthwhile. And you will probably understand your customers better in the end.” Plus, he said, the program was an interesting way to go back to school. Roasting and brewing small-batch coffee since 1993, Al and Camp 4 have become Crested Butte staples. 

“It was really interesting to work with those guys because we did a number of tests and got feedback from our customers in the digital universe. Once you figure out the right approach, style, photos, etc., then you can craft ads and promotions that will then get better received and give you better sales.” Smith was even talked into dressing up in a Santa suit for Camp 4’s special Christmas-blend coffee packaging. 

The participating companies also enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with each other. “Turns out, Camp 4 is an amazing product and I think there’s a lot of alignment with our audience,” said Ellsworth. “Al and I have enjoyed some really great conversations. We will be exploring opportunities to work together in the future.”

As for Blister’s 2020 goals, Ellsworth plans to continue to grow revenue in order to expand his employee base. “We’re looking to bring on three to five more folks in the next year, locally,” he said.

And for Camp 4, Smith doesn’t have immediate plans to scale up, but plans to continue some of the packaging, marketing and promotions tactics his team worked on throughout the accelerator process. “We may not have this massive growth, but we have a very resilient customer base,” said Smith of the takeaways.

Third Bowl was not available for comment in time for publication. 

Assad is pleased with how this first accelerator went. “It helps raise the business acumen of the valley,” he said. “Even though you’re in a small place, we have people here with intelligent businesses.”

Up next, ICELab will begin its 8-week incubator program on March 17, focusing on entrepreneurs who have a business idea and are trying to build it and learn how to start. 

“We have very ambitious and strong entrepreneurs in our valley, which I already knew, but it’s enforced by programs like these at the ICELab,” said Assad. “They’re all very passionate about their business and they want to do good by the community as well.” 

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