By GREG MOORE and ERIC AVISSAR
Express Staff Writers
Two new efforts to help local businesses—an “incubator” center in the Ketchum light-industrial district and a small-business mentor program—are expected to help existing entrepreneurs and attract new companies to the area.
“What can we do to foster a year-round economy?” Sun Valley Economic Development board member Rick LeFaivre asked during an economic forum hosted by the nonprofit organization on March 20. “What can we do to attract people with families?”
One answer is the Ketchum Innovation Center, known by its acronym, KIC. The center was organized by the Ketchum Community Development Corp. and inaugurated on Feb. 1 with the help of $28,000 from the city to fund eight months of operation and by flexible lease arrangements from the building’s landlord. It is housed in a nice stone building on the corner of Saddle Road and Northwood Way.
The intent is to provide fledgling businesses with affordable space and an atmosphere that fosters creativity and the exchange of ideas.
“I think they’ve got a great thing going here.”
Maxwell Structural Design Studio
CDC Executive Director Jon Duval said the center is following a proven model. According to the National Business Incubator Association, there are about 1,000 business incubators in the United States.
Three small businesses, composed of a total of seven people, have moved in to the KIC building so far, and their owners report that they love the space.
“I think they’ve got a great thing going here,” said Craig Maxwell, a structural engineer who set up Maxwell Structural Design Studio about a month ago after having worked for a local architectural firm for eight years. “The energy that’s been here in just a month since they got this going has been wonderful.”
Maxwell said he left the firm “to be in control of my own destiny.” However, he admits that he can’t do everything on his own, and he welcomes ideas from people in other professions who can offer a fresh perspective.
So far, Maxwell is sharing the building with Caldwell Collections, a video production company specializing in outdoor sports, and Square Dot, a creative studio that works on book and magazine production, advertising campaigns and website creation. The tenants pay $500 per month plus $100 per employee past one.
“We absolutely love working in the KIC,” Square Dot Director Brit Johnston said. “It’s a very collaborative environment with a lot of energy.”
Duval said he has spent between $5,000 and $6,000 so far on utilities, Internet service and property taxes for the building. He said the goal is not for the center to be the cheapest space in town, and the KIC board will not accept all applicants.
“We want people who are buying in to what we do,” he said. “I’d like to target people who have a good business idea but also have a skill set that can help other entrepreneurs. Hopefully, there’s a lot of cross-pollination that’s going to happen here.”
Brothers Yancy Caldwell, 28, and Wyatt Caldwell, 30, are Ketchum natives whose passion for snowboarding took them to the professional level, where they learned a lot about filming outdoor action. Yancy Caldwell said they decided they could use that knowledge to form their own production and editing company. Over the past year or so, they’ve created videos for Sun Valley Co., Smith Optics and the Matador Network, an online adventure travel site.
However, he said, they got tired of working out of their homes and decided the KIC would be a perfect fit. He said they need help creating a good business plan, managing finances and preparing documents, and he hopes the KIC will provide contacts for clients and investors.
Duval said he plans on scheduling discussion groups and workshops on specific business topics this summer. He’s also been talking with Boise State University’s Venture Program to schedule a speaker on its Lean Startup model, which provides guidance on getting a business off the ground without investing a lot at the get-go.
“We’d love to have someone come up here and teach Lean Startup 101,” he said.
Mentors and Advisors Program
A companion effort to the KIC is a Mentors and Advisors Program intended to draw on the vast pool of business expertise in the Wood River Valley. According to Sun Valley Economic Development, the valley is home to 136 CEOs or presidents of companies, including 17 leaders of Fortune 500 corporations and 20 leaders and/or founders of technology or Internet firms. The organization also discovered 31 successful venture capitalists living here.
“There is a wealth of talent in this valley,” said LeFaivre, a former vice president of advanced technologies at Apple. “If we can leverage that talent, we can help businesses succeed.”
He said 20 people have agreed to volunteer as long-term mentors or more short-term advisors, and he expects to sign up about 10 more.
“If we can start with six or seven companies and 30 mentors, I think we’ll have a great start,” he said.
He said the volunteers include technical experts, venture capitalists, lawyers and marketing professionals. The “mentees,” he said, can be anyone working in the Wood River Valley, including those engaged in startups and older business owners planning on retiring and wondering how best to transition out of running their business full-time.
LeFaivre said he plans on holding several “pitch fests” at the KIC, during which applicants for help can pitch their business ideas, then chat informally with the mentors and advisors.
“We’ll see what kind of linkages occur,” he said.
Both LeFaivre and Duval said their ears are wide-open to new ideas and proposals for every kind of new business.