The immediate future of the Gunnison Valley’s export business is unclear.

The Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator, a business incubator that helps new founders in the outdoor industry grow their companies, has garnered national attention — turning the industry to its host location, the Gunnison Valley. Putting Gunnison County on the map is a program that not only benefits entrepreneurs, but also the local business community.

Although ICELab, Gunnison’s co-working space and business resource center, hosts the program each spring, Musejaw sponsors the external accelerator. Formerly owned by Walmart, the largest online retailer specializes in outdoor recreation apparel and equipment. But six months after taking over the company, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would close 11 of Museja’s 14 physical stores.

The Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator was entering its fifth year in 2024. But following a change in ownership, the ICELab team isn’t certain to return next year. While that particular program may be scrapped, Assad told Gunnison County commissioners earlier that he is exploring other options. He cited a strong relationship with the director of the state’s Office of the Outdoor Recreation Industry and ICELab’s new funding meetings — local events that pair outdoor industry startups with potential investors.

“There are a lot of options, and we’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” ICELab director David Asad said at a county commissioners meeting earlier this fall. Although it was a surprise, we were ready for it.

Although the program’s title sponsor has changed over the years, the Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator remains one of ICELab’s flagship programs. The eight-week accelerator covers marketing, e-commerce, financial modeling and more, and continues to attract businesses from across the country to the Valley.

Leaders at ICELab believe Musjaw has marketed Gunnison County as an “outdoor industry hub,” a term often used to describe the valley as an ideal place to grow a successful entertainment-based business. More than 150 companies applied for a place in the program between 2022 and 2023.

“It’s something that most people here love,” Assad said. Times. “And this is probably the seed, or the most important foundation for it, and then everything grows from there.”

Some of the businesses that moved in the accelerator decided to move to the valley, bringing with them high-paying jobs. SheFly Apparel and PACT Outdoors, which went under the name “Gnara”, are notable examples.

These new companies join a network of outdoor industry-focused companies that reside in the Gunnison-Crested Butte corridor – perfect product development and testing locations thanks to the ease of access to public lands and the great outdoors. These include, but are not limited to: Proyx Hunting, Romp Skis, Acli-Mat, Campfire Ranch and Beacon Guidebooks.

Local companies that are not directly involved in acceleration are also influenced by visiting entrepreneurs. During the Moosejaw Accelerator, founders spend six weeks in the Gunnison Valley. ICELab brings them as guest speakers throughout the program – connections that help build relationships as knowledge is transferred from experienced companies to startups.

“It’s fun to showcase the community and the network here,” said ICELab Manager TJ Taylor.

What does ownership transfer mean for Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator? Asad said he did not have an answer yet. He communicated with the CEO and others about alternative options.

“We’ve been talking to people at other events about getting a title sponsor if we lose our current one,” Assad said. We don’t want to because they’ve been great partners… we’d love to keep them here.

ICELab typically runs its own local business incubator program each year. In the year In 2023, the dates overlap with a similar program run by Startup Colorado, a nonprofit that supports rural entrepreneurs in the state. This year, ICELab decided to support and market to the Colorado Startup Incubator instead of running a competitive program. In addition to the new funding meetings, these are just a few ways ICELab continues to support entrepreneurs who pass through, and sometimes stay in, the Gunnison Valley.

(Bella Biondini can be reached at 970.641.1414 or [email protected].)

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