Venture Capitalists Looking to Remote Rocky Mountains for Start-Up, Real Estate Opportunities

December 1, 2019
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Xinhua Feature

Original post corutesy of Peter Mertz and Xinhua: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-12/01/c_138597896.htm

DENVER, the United States, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- Venture capital money from California's lucrative Silicon Valley is flowing more and more each year into Colorado and tech savvy entrepreneurs are peeking into remote enclaves in the Rocky Mountains area of the state, business insiders have said.

"We've had increased excitement in the 'western slope' of Colorado -- the landscape is changing," said Delaney Keating, managing director of Startup Colorado.

"Startup Colorado is a regional initiative to increase the breadth and depth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem across Colorado's Front Range," the company's website says. Its focus west of Denver, capital of the state, is very recent.

Geographically, Colorado is split almost in half by the flat Front Range to the east, and the spectacular Rockies to the west, where Keating is headquartered, in the tiny city of Gunnison.

It didn't take California's millionaire class of tech-savvy millennial entrepreneurs long to look west of Denver, where Keating is working to bring investment dollars into the land of silver and gold.

In the late 19th century, Colorado's mountains brought rugged, mineral prospectors to the area. In the 21st century, the same region is attracting outdoor enthusiasts, many with big wallets seeking an alternative lifestyle.

Keating has been on the job for a year, and explained to Xinhua just before Thanksgiving Day why Colorado's remote western half -- the heart of the Rockies -- is drawing investment attention like never before.

"People are watching -- there are many groups looking to activate capital in the state -- lots of opportunity for investment from the outside," she told Xinhua last Wednesday. With a focus on millennials (20-35-year-olds), Keating is producing a podcast series that will be aired on public radio and downloaded with ease.

She said the series will "help capture some stories that are really interesting and incredible, with businesses opening up with community stock options, like employee stock options, which is really an important part of the future equation."

Keating believed there is a growing trend across the country of people who no longer want to live trapped in urban areas.

Using a computer as their office, tech-savvy elites can live anywhere. Recent trends suggest many prefer spending their lives in more peaceful, rural settings.

An article from Colorado-based KOAA-News from July noted, "Millennials Love Colorado and Colorado Springs," stating that in 2017, more than 21,000 millennials migrated to the Centennial State, among whom many are technical and business talents.

As a result, investment in Colorado continues to climb. Colorado venture investments jumped 23 percent from 2017 to 1.47 billion U.S. dollars in 2018.

Besides a high tech industry, Colorado's mountainous western half has a number of wealthy ski resorts -- communities that have fueled investor interest -- especially in recent years.

According to a 2019 Sotheby's Real Estate analysis, homes in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, have climbed steadily since the turn of the millennium, to a median price of 814,000 U.S. dollars in 2018.

"These western mountain towns have many people with second homes," Steamboat Springs-based Shawn Bertini, who runs Four Points Funding, LLC, told Xinhua.

Steamboat, founded in 1874, is a thriving town of 13,000 located 250 km from Denver in Northwest Colorado.

Since 2017, Bertini has helped link venture capitalists and "Angel investors" with business opportunities in remote mountain enclaves, where investments include facilities and housing developments.

Bizjournals.com said in 2018, the average sale price of an Aspen home was 4.9 million dollars, and in Telluride, where Hollywood star Tom Cruise has a vacation property, the median home price that year was 1.95 million dollars in 2018, according to real estate firm Coldwell Banker.

Aspen, founded in 1879 by silver prospectors, currently has 7,357 residents, many of whom reside there part-time.

"These are fly-in communities, and people want to be anchored," Keating said, meaning they prefer to relax or work in a second home rather than a hotel. She noted that most investment capital comes from "outside," including the East Coast, more than 3,000 km away.

Keating has a vast arsenal of tools to attract wealthy investors by allowing capital gains deferment for 10 years, among other things. This tax savings translates into million of dollars of income for a prospective high-stakes investor.

What's more, local communities are chomping at the bit to have venture capital flow into town.

"We expect not just to make money, but also to improve the lives of many across Colorado, in particular on the western slope and in the mountain towns we love," Bertini said.

"The chance to help people create jobs and grow their dreams is privilege for which I am truly grateful," he added.