After six years of supporting entrepreneurs, offering educational courses and running a work-space venue, the Ketchum Innovation Center is closing its doors.
“With a solid entrepreneurial spirit alive in Ketchum, KIC will be officially closing its doors on April 3, when its lease comes to an end,” the organization announced on Monday.
Several factors led to KIC’s decision to close, according to the statement, but the most important factor was that it has left Ketchum in a stronger economic state than it was six years ago.
“Local businesses and entrepreneurs have filled many of the voids KIC previously occupied such as co-working space, educational events and networking opportunities,” KIC said in the announcement. “In addition, people now have access to a wide variety of educational programs as a result of the growth in online courses and programs.”
KIC was founded in spring 2014 by Jon Duval after he became executive director of the Ketchum Community Development Corp. in 2010. The nonprofit KCDC was created by the city in 2006. The KCDC operates KIC, using funding from the city and the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency. Since its founding, KIC moved from its original building in a converted residence in the light-industrial area to a building at the corner of Sun Valley Road and First Avenue, then to its current location at 180 Sixth Street.
Between 2015 and 2018, KIC drew many questions from city staff, elected officials and residents wondering what the organization does with city tax dollars.
Eighteen months in, KIC began to create tension between the then KCDC board president Neil Bradshaw, now Ketchum mayor, and City Administrator Suzanne Frick, who said the organization should become more self-sufficient and not rely on city funding as its sole source of financing. According to a story published in the Idaho Mountain Express on Sept. 25, 2015, Frick wrote in a July staff report that the city was never supposed to be the only source of funding for KIC.
“Ketchum would assist in funding projects, but operational costs would be funded through other revenue sources,” Frick wrote. “Over the last few years, Ketchum has been asked to be the sole funder.”
(KIC has also received donations, won grants to fund specific initiatives, and earned income off of some operations.)
The 2015 story broke down the $96,000 in city funding for that year that went to KIC: $27,000 in building expenses, Duval’s $50,000 salary and $19,000 for marketing, recruiting, travel, events, office supplies and other costs.
According to a 2017 news release from KIC, the organization had more than 115 entrepreneurs and 50 volunteer mentors that year. At that time, the organization said it had created $1.25 million in investment into local startup companies. That same year, Duval stepped down, and Kathryn Kemp Guylay became the center’s new CEO.
During her time, KIC hosted a workshop for working women, brainstorming sessions and events for millennials to help them find their professional footing as it shifted from being an incubator for startup companies to refocusing its mission to four basic pillars—education, mentorship, community and capital solutions, according to a story in the Idaho Mountain Express published Jan. 31, 2018.
Four years after it began, KIC had received nearly $500,000 in taxpayer funding. But one of its most touted startups failed to produce any jobs.
According to the 2018 article, in 2016 Ketchum hailed a startup at KIC called Solu, a project within a company called User Interface User Experience, or UiUx, that announced it would hire 88 people by 2020 and create an economic impact of $20.1 million through its storytelling app for tablets. CEO David Currier said in a 2018 interview with the Mountain Express that the project’s potential user growth failed to entice investors and he had moved to Colorado to pursue other startups.
Guylay stepped down in in June 2018. Since then, Christy Anna Gerber has served in the role of KIC executive director since then.
Later that summer, during a budget reading, Ketchum City Councilwoman Amanda Breen once again asked the question of where the taxpayer money was going and how its impact was measured.
“We need more,” Breen is quoted as saying in a Mountain Express story published Aug. 10, 2018. “We need more results from them than just the number of events they hold. We need to have a more robust form of measurements of their success.”
In response, fellow council member and KIC board member Courtney Hamilton called KIC a “beacon of hope for people who feel there are no future careers in Ketchum.”
In its press release announcing its closure, KIC lists a number of local businesses that it supported in a variety of ways. Those include Sawtooth Brewery, Sun Valley Hydration, Sun Valley Records, Piedaho, Nardagani and the Wood River Valley Studio Tour.
According to Assistant City Administrator Lisa Enourato, the city and KURA contracted with the KCDC for KIC services. Those programs included public workshops to promote economic development, local investor meetings or “Pitch Nights,” public outreach and marketing, quarterly reports of activities and businesses development and mentoring, according to a KURA February 2018 contract for services.