Jackson Hole Takes Center Stage in Wyoming’s Entrepreneurship Conversation
Big things are happening in Jackson Hole and the ripple effect is being felt across the state of Wyoming.
On August 10th, I attended the 6th annual Pitch Day. The event was organized by Silicon Couloir, a local non-profit. Their organization’s mission is straightforward:
Silicon Couloir aligns entrepreneurship with community vision to promote a diverse economy and a healthy environment for current and future generations.
This mission gave rise to Pitch Day, which was created to provide budding businesses that have a regional impact an opportunity to share their ventures with an audience of community members, business owners, and investors. Led by Executive Director, Scott Fitzgerald, Silicon Couloir has created connecting points for the entrepreneurs it serves and the community that they are a part of.
The format of Pitch Day is akin to many accelerator demo days. Six companies are selected each year from a pool of applicants by a local team of community leaders and entrepreneurs. Over the course of six months, these teams are are paired up with coaches and mentors who provide coaching and guidance on their business pitch, until finally the big day arrives.
The support that Pitch Day and the entrepreneurial scene in Jackson as a whole receives from the local community is amazing. This year, over 300 people registered to come out and support their local entrepreneurs, and Wyoming Governor Matt Mead was in attendance to meet the entrepreneurs and to give opening remarks.
From an outside perspective, it appears as though Silicon Couloir has done a lot of the heavy lifting to engage the local community and the entrepreneurs who inhabit the Teton region. The non-profit currently has eight different programs that they run, Pitch Day being just one of them. Programs like their Chance Meetings provide a platform to entrepreneurial minded individuals to gather, collaborate, and create new connections that have personal and professional value. Startup Intensive is a 10 week program ran in partnership with Central Wyoming College. It is a full on immersion into entrepreneurship that allows founders to refine their idea or business. However, a successful entrepreneurial community requires more than just entrepreneurs.
There is not a shortage of intellectual capital in the Teton Region. The area is famous for attracting high net worth individuals, many of whom are entrepreneurs or executives themselves. Silicon Couloir engages that intellectual capital through events like the Angel Mentor Group, and the well respected MIT Venture Mentor program. Having a place for these individuals to engage with local entrepreneurs gives the entrepreneurs in the area a special advantage. They have access to resources that can’t be found in most places, big and small cities alike.
The rest of Wyoming is taking notice of what is happening in Jackson, and for good reason. Currently, 70% of the state’s revenue comes from minerals. The State recognizes that they can’t rely so heavily on an industry that is facing pressure from economic conditions, regulatory constrictions, and volatility in production for the long-term.
That isn’t the only problem that Wyoming is facing. Today, 60% of 18–25 year olds are leaving Wyoming in search of new personal, educational, and professional opportunities. Many small communities often refer to this problem as the “Brain Drain” problem, when there are not enough opportunities locally to attract or maintain the talent that is found in a community. This is not a new challenge, but Wyoming is facing this problem on a state level.
The State Government sees entrepreneurship as one avenue to helping solve the long term challenges that Wyoming faces, and they are putting their money where their mouth is. Wyoming already doesn’t have any income or business tax, but to take efforts one step further, the Governor recently launched ENDOW, a $2.5M entrepreneurial initiative. ENDOW is a 20 year effort for a state the recognizes that they need economic diversification. By encouraging and fostering innovation in Wyoming, they hope to retain provide opportunities for individuals to stay local and to build careers that they don’t have access to today.
Before I left town, I had lunch with Gordon Finnegan, a Principal at Bootpack Ventures, a Jackson based VC firm. During our conversation it became apparent to me that the mountain backdrop is what made Pitch Day possible. It is apparent that the residents of Jackson have made a decision to live there, and have no intentions of leaving. They are a group of high achievers who aren’t satisfied with the status quo and believe that entrepreneurship is the key to the long term economic viability for the area. As stated on Silicon Couloir website, and shared in Governor Mead’s opening remarks:
“What is honored in a community will be cultivated there.” -Plato
Jackson and Wyoming are quickly becoming fertile grounds for founders.