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Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we grow an area’s outdoor recreation industry. Thankfully, in the Gunnison Valley, a business resource center known as ICELab keeps the many threads of economic development from knotting.
To fill the void left in the Gunnison Valley’s economy by the shrinking coal industry, Western Colorado University (WCU) used an Economic Development Administration grant to launch this hub for outdoor innovation, which has co-working space, private offices, and a coffee shop, in 2016. ICELab’s goal? Stabilize the valley by making it a magnet for adventure entrepreneurs and students.
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ICELab runs three accelerator programs. Two work with emerging talent in the valley, and a third, the Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator, begins May 3 and invites brands from across the country to spend five weeks in Gunnison growing their companies. Business pros—such as Jim Oates, retired president of global advertising firm Leo Burnett Co.—serve as mentors, and all founders keep their equity.
National Accelerator Grad: Hustle Bike Labs
Craig Payne, inventor of a magnetic clip-in bike pedal, plans to move Hustle Bike Labs from Texas to Gunnison because of the support he says he got from the community during the Catapult Outdoor Recreation Accelerator, which hosted several companies from across the nation.
Regional Accelerator Grad: Blister
An eight-year-old website delivering brutally honest reviews about skiing, climbing, and biking gear and apparel, Crested Butte–based Blister saw its business grow after one of ICELab’s regional accelerators helped streamline its marketing.
Western Colorado University
ICELab operates out of a renovated WCU gymnasium, and the university covers the business center’s operating expenses. In return, students can use ICELab’s many resources—a recording studio and digital photo lab, for example—and attend workshops and talks given by adventure icons, such as climbing legend Tommy Caldwell.
John Norton, the Gunnison–Crested Butte Tourism and Prosperity Partnership’s executive director, says the businesses ICELab supports help diversify the valley’s economy, make the county more attractive to visitors, and spark new partnerships.
Outdoor Industry MBA
Participants in WCU’s three-year-old master’s program focus on “Patagonia, not Pepsi,” says program director Scott Borden, and work closely with ICELab businesses, which offer internships and mentor students on final projects, including launching companies of their own—such as Campfire Ranch.
Campfire Ranch, founded by an ICELab member and WCU Outdoor Industry MBA grad, draws adventure novices to its campground in the Gunnison Valley: Its team teaches visitors basic camping skills, like building a fire, and provides all the gear they need.
From its offices in ICELab, Beacon publishes books that detail backcountry terrain and safety. “It grew rapidly because people wanted to be far apart during the pandemic,” David Assad, ICELab’s director, says.