By Mckenzie Moore
With participants and presenters from around Western Colorado and over to the Denver area, West Slope Startup Week has been bringing together entrepreneurs and business owners from across the region, including three presenters from Delta County.
Christopher Caskey, Barry Pennell and Nikole James Stanfield, based out of Paonia, Delta and Cedaredge, respectively, were all hosts of various panels for the event, which took place Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the month of July.
Caskey is the founder of the Delta Brick and Climate Company, which acquired a factory in Montrose in December 2019 and is now fully operational. With a background in both science and entrepreneurship, his presentation, “Early-stage Funding Models Drive Inequality” focused on how privilege plays a role in startup ecosystems.
“I would like to see this community focus on the competitive advantages that we have out here,” Caskey said. “That was my talk: how do we get around these barriers that exist, and is this just a club for people from that level of privilege or can we build something larger? What I want to see out here in Western Colorado is broadly shared prosperity.”
Before the presentation, Caskey consulted with investors and other members of the startup community to ensure an informed conversation. He hopes to see the whole community flourish using resources in Delta County that aren’t available anywhere else, in a way that benefits everyone.
“My goal there was wanting to be respectful and make a more intelligent conversation,” Caskey said. “I want to see economic growth on the Western Slope, but not in a way that exacerbates economic inequality.”
He said the opportunity to participate in West Slope Startup Week allowed him to connect with other entrepreneurs, and he hopes his message reached people on the Western Slope, especially in rural areas like Delta County.
“I think it’s really great that the organizers are putting this on. The sponsors and all the organizers are working hard and creating good stuff, and thanks to them for giving me a platform and hopefully we can go back to in person next year.”
Nikole James Stanfield hosted the session “How to Say ‘No’ and Still Be Successful in Your Business,” which focused on balancing professional and personal life and learning to recharge during time off rather than feeling guilty.
“In 2018, I burned out, and I burned out to the point where I almost walked away from my business,” Stanfield said. “I share this with you because I want to make sure that you know that if you’re experiencing some of things as an entrepreneur yourself, it’s okay. I think that one of the reason we end up in burnout, potentially, is because we don’t say no enough, and we don’t say, ‘I need to put myself first.’”
Stanfield interacted closely with participants using Zoom’s chat function, using participants’ responses to expand on some of the typical signs of burnout and how many people share the same experiences.
“I felt like if I wasn’t busy, I wouldn’t be important, and I really want to make sure this point comes home,” Stanfield said. “In the end, some of the things I was doing weren’t really the best use of my time. ...What I wanted to be able to do was have the freedom to say no without losing an opportunity or relationship, have that space, that capacity in my life that it wasn’t all or nothing.”
Barry Pennell, Food and Ag Manager at ENGAGE Delta County, was also a presenter for the event, speaking during the session “Farm to Pivot: Protecting Our Foodshed.” The session focused on “how farmers have pivoted and how the market has responded during this time of COVID(-19),” including topics around supply chain disruption, food shed and security, CSAs (community supported agriculture) and the “pivot” from institutional to direct to consumer.
West Slope Startup Week will conclude on July 30 from noon to 2 p.m. with a final livestream presentation, including the seven finalists for the $275,000 Greater Colorado Pitch Fund investment. Although none of the presenters from Delta County made it to the finals, the event allowed them to get the word out about business and entrepreneurship in the area and communicate with a larger audience across the state.
“We are incredibly optimistic about the impact this will have for the Western Slope,” said Cory Finney, Greater Colorado Venture Fund partner. “Jobs will be created in our communities and businesses will take hold or accelerate their efforts. We hope that people from outside of rural Colorado recognize all the amazing things already taking place, and that it inspires new business creation across our state.”
More information on the remainder of West Slope Startup Week, as well as information and session recordings from the presenters from Delta County, can be found at westslopestartupweek.com.