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Telluride Venture Accelerator launches new phase


  • Special thanks to the Montrose Daily Press

The Telluride Venture Accelerator, an initiative of the Telluride Foundation, is launching a new chapter and rebranding as Telluride Venture Network (TVN).

Launched in 2013, the Telluride Venture Network is a nationally recognized, award-winning entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports new, innovative, and growing businesses. TVN is rooted in the history of innovation for which the Telluride region is known, including Nicolai Tesla’s first AC power transmission to power the mines, as well as the creation of a world class ski resort. TVN’s mission to diversify the regional economy has resulted in 50 graduating companies, dozens of new jobs, millions of investment dollars raised, 1,000-plus hours of mentoring, and the birth of a high-impact efforts such as the Telluride Venture Fund (TVF), a regional loan fund, and an active co-working space.

“We are all incredibly excited about TVN’s next phase” said TVN founder and Telluride board member Jesse Johnson. “This is a world-class organization with one of the strongest mentor communities in the country. TVN has been and will continue to be on the forefront of innovation and finding solutions, all from our beautiful outpost in the mountains.”

Over the years, TVN has surfaced a large local business mentor and investor network, which the Telluride Foundation wants to leverage as a powerful force to help expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem, support local business, and create an intellectually stimulating community for all its members.

Having a mentor can change the playing field for a small business. Research has shown that small businesses that receive mentoring early in the development of their business achieve higher revenues and increased business growth. A 2014 survey by the UPS Store found that 70 percent of small businesses that received mentoring survived more than five years – double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses. The same survey found that 88 percent of business owners with a mentor said that having one was invaluable.

While TVN will develop a mentor and investor network to support entrepreneurs graduating from TVN or growing ventures in the region, it will also continue its well-established programs, including its focus on bootcamps, 10-day intensive sessions guided by seasoned mentors.

Bootcamp focus areas have included mining solutions, plastic alternatives, and growth and fundraising. In 2021, thanks to a generous supporter, TVN will be introducing a new, dedicated bootcamp focused on immigrant communities.

TVN serves as the Telluride Foundation’s signature program for entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, startups, and related activities in the region and is an advocate for entrepreneurship and remote-worker resources at the town, county, and state level. TVN is just one of the Telluride Foundation’s programs to support an entrepreneurial ecosystem, which includes the Telluride Venture Fund, an early-stage investment fund, and the Telluride Regional Loan Fund, a $2 million working capital loan fund that supports rural business startup, growth, and job creation and retention in southwest Colorado.

The foundation has been recognized nationally for its innovation efforts as a community foundation, including being a founding member of the national Entrepreneurship Funders Network, along with the Kauffman, Blackstone, and Lemelson foundations, as well as having a board member role on Startup Colorado.

Leading these innovation efforts will be Bonnie Watson, managing director of the Telluride Venture Network. Watson came to the foundation in 2018 as its Southwest Capital & Transaction adviser to manage the Telluride Venture Fund and Telluride Regional Loan Fund, as well as focus on leveraging the Opportunity Zone designation of rural communities in the region.

Watson has been working directly with startup companies and small businesses in the region to create and coordinate new, as well as existing, sources of capital to help fund various business ventures. Now, Watson will expand her role to manage TVN’s restructuring.

Watson is excited for this new chapter in TVN’s journey. “This new chapter will help support entrepreneurs through accelerator bootcamps and capital (investors, loan fund, venture fund) but will heavily focus on leveraging our incredible team of mentors to build mentor teams for each entrepreneur,” she said. “The journey of entrepreneurship is marked by many uncertainties, but a mentor team can validate an idea and give vision to make a startup successful.”

As a Colorado native who grew up in Evergreen, Watson graduated from Colorado Mesa University with her B.A. in finance and later received her master’s degree in finance from Colorado State University. Previously, Watson worked in the traditional financing industry as a portfolio lender and taught finance at Colorado Mesa University. She and her husband are also owners of Alt Space (a co-working space) in Telluride.

Julie Penner will also be continuing to work with TVN as its Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR). Julie has served as the EIR for TVN for the past two years, facilitating the curriculum around theme-based bootcamps for startups working on plastics reduction, investment readiness, local food products, and mining reclamation technologies.

Penner has a deep background in running accelerators and coaching early-stage companies, and she is, now, leveraging this experience and knowledge to help companies in Telluride’s business ecosystem.

Penner comes to TVN after five years working at Techstars, a premier global accelerator, and more recently she spent a year as a venture partner for an early stage venture capital fund. She holds a JD/MBA from University of Colorado with an emphasis in entrepreneurship and a BA from Brown University. She began her career at Zeo, a Boston-based consumer hardware startup.

“I’ve witnessed a lot of great entrepreneurs moving to the Western Slope of Colorado over the last year,” said Penner. “I’m excited to expand TVN to incorporate the best mentors and entrepreneurs in our region, spurring growth in this area. It’s a very exciting time to be based in Colorado if you’re building a company.”

The Telluride Foundation is a nonprofit, apolitical community foundation that makes grants to nonprofits, owns, and operates programs that meet emerging and unmet community needs, and makes investments. For more information, visit

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