Soaring mountains. Placid lakes and rivers. Spectacular ski slopes. And high-tech, people-powered entrepreneurship.
That’s Durango, Colorado. Long known as a ski town and tourist destination tucked away in the state’s southwest corner, today Durango is growing a technology ecosystem whose innovations are creating sustainable jobs and opportunities throughout the community.
How did this town of 20,000 reach these heights? Through foresight into how the economy was changing—and a concerted effort to adapt to join it. Local leaders knew that the local job market was too reliant on tourism and natural resource extraction. Recognizing this problem, a group of local business owners, economic development groups, and angel investors convened to solve it. Ultimately, they launched the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs, an intensive six-month accelerator program in Durango serving the five counties in the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado.
SCAPE is place-based, focused both on incubating growth startups and helping the local economy — and to date, it’s succeeded on both fronts. In just seven years, SCAPE has helped rural companies raise over $24 million and create 152 jobs at above-average wages.
Agile Space Industries — designer, manufacturer, and tester of integrated aerospace propulsion systems — is headquartered in Durango, and has received venture capital from a diverse network of local investors, along with seed funding from our own CORI Innovation Fund. They’ve brought in top engineering talent from all across the country while also hiring new graduates coming out of Durango’s local Fort Lewis College. MUNIRevs, another startup accelerated through SCAPE, is rapidly expanding with CEO Erin Neer at the helm, who grew up visiting Durango with her parents on road trips and now has started both a company and a family in this town that she loves. What’s more, GitPrime, a software company that participated in SCAPE in 2015, was acquired for $170 million, a transformative figure for a rural startup and its community.
What SCAPE and Durango are proving is that when you combine capital, innovative people, and a beautiful area with space to think and unwind, the results can be powerful. Durango has never just been a ski town. It’s a bustling community with people who care about the place they call home and believe in its potential. Now, with SCAPE and the other startups changing its economic trajectory, Durango is proving a model for how entrepreneurship can power rural communities into the 21st century.
The Rural Edge series
At CORI, we have a saying: once you’ve seen one rural community, you’ve seen one rural community. America’s small towns are diverse and dynamic, and through our work with our Rural Innovation Network, we have the privilege of working in depth with 18 communities building digital economy ecosystems. To highlight these incredible places, Siegel Family Endowment and the Walmart Foundation provided funding for us to create video case studies highlighting our communities’ efforts.