Cultivating ideas

Like so many freelancers and entrepreneurs, Amy Kemp found herself making the rounds to local coffee shops when she first struck out on her own with Mountaintop Media, the public relations and marketing firm she founded in 2014.

“I loved that energy, moving around and being a part of every town and community,” she said. Before long, however, she realized working in coffee shops wouldn’t quite cut it. “I needed a space where I could take calls without baristas yelling and kids screaming in the background,” she smiled. “At the same time I missed being around coworkers.”

She wasn’t the only one. Researching the Summit County community, Kemp found quite a few people in a similar situation, who needed more than a home office or coffee shop. She spent time in coworking spaces in the Front Range, including Galvanize, Battery 621 and Fuse at the Riverside. “I was so struck at how collaborative the coworking community is,” she said. “I loved the community they were creating.”

The people she met were quick to ask how they could help, and Kemp saw parallels between this “give first” mentality, popular among technology startups, and the Summit County spirit, even if it isn’t always verbalized in the business community. “The idea is to give your time, give your energy, pay it forward,” she said.

That ethos underpins Elevate, the coworking space Kemp opened in Frisco in 2014, followed by the Breckenridge space in 2016 with partners James Lee and Dave Knell. Both locations offer desks for rent—whether for one day a month, unlimited access to a shared workstation, or your own dedicated desk. But the cospaces offer a great deal more than that, from company and collaboration with fellow coworkers to a slate of innovative programming designed to support entrepreneurs.

Among them is Startup Weekend, which Elevate Breckenridge hosted in November. Participants pitch their ideas on Friday, then form teams and work all weekend before presenting full-fledged business plans, and many launch their businesses by Sunday. “It’s one of the most intense events we host, but one of the most life-changing,” Kemp said. “It’s a heavy dose of what it’s like to take that leap into entrepreneurship.”

Another offering is Camp 9600, an immersive storytelling conference that attracts big names and companies, created in partnership with Mountaintop Media, Elevate and Breckenridge Tourism Office.

“We know marketing has shifted a lot to storytelling,” said Lee. “That is super important to what people are doing on social media.” At Camp 9600, participants “learn how to amplify their storytelling through writing, photography, social media and branding; and we mix in a lot of the things we like—like hiking, biking and drinking,” he said.

“Most coworking spaces in urban areas have been affiliated with the technology community,” Kemp said. “Here in Summit County we are very technology-heavy, however we realized very early on that we are also defined by outdoor recreation and creative workers.”

In April, Elevate hosted the Colorado Outdoor Industry Leadership Summit, COILSx, a gathering of outdoor industry leaders that focuses on business, conservation and issues in mountain communities.

“We’re really now sort of taking on a bigger presence at the state level as far as what it looks like for a small mountain town to build this ecosystem for entrepreneurs,” said Lee, who has been a business owner in Breckenridge for nearly 20 years. “I have a sort of entrepreneurial gene,” he said. “I was shoveling driveways, cutting lawns. I had a paper route in Alaska when I was a kid. As early as I could work, I was doing my own thing, and I brought that to Colorado when I came here.” In Breckenridge, he founded the web and graphic design business Summit Creations, and co-founded Hub Breck, Iconix Clothing and Fathom VR.

He was inspired to open Elevate Breckenridge with Kemp after attending events at the Frisco location. “I wanted to bring that same energy and support for entrepreneurs to Breckenridge, which is where I call home,” Lee said. Future plans include founding a nonprofit organization through which business programming can be managed.

“Town Council supports what we are doing, and sees how we are reverse engineering the housing crisis in a way that is a lot less expensive than building houses,” he said, pointing out that if “new companies can launch, provide value to the community and also make more money,” it’s “a bunch of wins.”

Lee also hopes to increase program offerings, citing the success of his Summit Entrepreneurs meet-up, which is just a few months old.

Meanwhile, in Frisco, Elevate ambassador Elyse Schreiber looks forward to starting her own meet-up—a professional group for career-driven women in the county. “I have found great community here at Elevate,” said Schreiber, who started her own graphic design business, Freehand Collective, in May. Already, she has a steady stream of work coming in, thanks to word-of-mouth introductions at Elevate.

“Especially starting out, I got tons of great pointers from other entrepreneurs and self-employed people on simple stuff like how to handle taxes, or who’s a good CPA to talk to,” she said—and that is above and beyond the cross-pollination that occurs when innovators share a workspace. “Being a creative person, it helps me to see what other creatives are doing, even if they’re not in a creative field. It’s been a great community for cultivating ideas.”

“A lot of people don’t think of a business as a creative endeavor, but it really is,” Kemp said, “especially when you’re trying to disrupt an industry or try something new—you have to be creative and innovative. We want people to think differently, to not just do business as usual. We are really focused on: ‘How do we spark creative thinking? How do we spark innovation?’”

“Right now is one of the most exciting times to be in business,” she added, “and there are so many needs out there. You find that need, you figure it out, and you make a life out of that.”

Elevate cospace //
Mountaintop Media //
Freehand Collective //
Fathom VR //
Hub Breckenridge // //

Photos: Liam Doran