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The three partners of the Greater Colorado Venture Fund spent two years traveling rural Colorado to identify businesses worth of investment by the state's rural venture capital fund. During the pandemic, they parked their rigs and launched a virtual pitch contest to award the fund's next $250,000 investment. (Provided by GCVF)

For the past two years, Cory Finney and his partners at the $17.5 million Greater Colorado Venture Fund have traveled across the Western Slope in their camper vans, investing millions in rural startup companies and connecting them with a network of mentors and business leaders.

When the pandemic settled on the state, they parked their vans. But they are still seeking rural entrepreneurs. They are offering $275,000 through a virtual pitch event to seed a new business plan in rural Colorado. 

“So much of our work has been driving around to communities and meeting all these great entrepreneurs and this is our attempt at still trying to find and connect with those entrepreneurial companies while we are stuck at home,” said Finney, who partnered with his brother Jamie Finney and Marc Nager in the fund that has invested in 14 rural startups in the last two years. 

The fund’s Greater Colorado Pitch Series was supposed to be the grand finale of the second annual West Slope Startup Week. When the event moved into a virtual program spread across July with remote gatherings and seminars, the fund tweaked its plan and moved the pitch process online. 

The pitch series now looks something like this: startups in rural Colorado — defined as anywhere except the Front Range corridor from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs — apply online by June 30. The fund will accelerate its typical investment process to select a group of eight finalists, each of whom will give four-minute presentations as part of a live Q&A broadcast online on July 30, when the winner of the $250,000 investment will be named. 

Colorado Outdoors mixed-use development on the banks of the Uncompahgre River in Montrose includes headquarters for Mayfly Outdoors. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Outdoors Pearl Fund, the investor behind the 164-acre Colorado Outdoors mixed-use campus on the banks of the Uncompahgre River in Montrose, this week announced it was throwing in another $25,000, raising the total investment to $275,000 for the winner of the pitch series. 

The Greater Colorado Venture Fund in January 2018 was selected by the Office of Economic Development and International Trade and the Colorado Venture Capital Authority as the manager of the state’s newly established rural investment fund. The Greater Colorado Venture Fund, one of the nation’s first rural-focused venture capital funds, is available to businesses in 54 of the state’s 64 counties. 

The fund works to elevate companies outside of the Front Range, where a vast majority of venture capital lands. Last year, almost 400 Colorado startups raised $2.5 billion in investment, with nearly all of that going to companies in Denver, according to the Venture Monitor Report by the National Venture Capital Association. 

Investors have slowly begun seeing opportunities beyond Colorado’s Front Range. For entrepreneurs, the appreciation of mountain-based business opportunities is growing more quickly than ever before, especially after a sustained lockdown in urban areas, Finney said. 

“I’d say people from the Front Range are more interested than ever in moving to the mountains and I think COVID-19 has accelerated that process by five to 10 years,” he said. “In these last few months, it didn’t matter if you were an entrepreneur in Denver or an entrepreneur in Mancos. You were remote. In many ways, this has leveled the playing field. I think this has been a positive for what we are going to see company-building wise in rural Colorado. The thing we don’t know is whether there will be investors and money to support that company creation in rural Colorado. That’s where we are trying to help.”

Finney and his partners are hosting a live online question and answer webinar at noon on June 23. Click here to register

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, daughters and a dog named Gravy. Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors, ski industry, mountain business, housing, interesting things Location: Eagle, CO Newsletter: The...