TEAMS Mentor Program is Gearing Up

After a successful trial run, the MIT-inspired system of providing new business with expert guidance is ready for new entrepreneurs.

By Mark Huffman

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A program that matches successful business people with aspiring entrepreneurs has completed a pilot run and is approaching its second phase.

Teton Entrepreneurs and Mentors Service, or TEAMS, is a program run by Silicon Couloir, with links to mentorship programs created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. TEAMS recently had a trial run with six Jackson-area startups and is ready for the next step, said Jenn Ford, the executive director of Silicon Couloir.

The general goal, Ford said, is “a healthy, diverse economy and a healthy environment” for Jackson Hole and surrounding areas.

For new business people in particular, she said, the aim is to provide the nuts-and-bolts of operating a business for those who have a good idea and the dedication but lack experience in applying them.

Enthusiasm counts for a lot in starting a business, Ford said, but is less helpful when it comes to knowing how to hire people, how to keep books and deal with taxes, how to deal with regulations or how to handle growth. Eventually, she said, people starting a business might want to know how to gracefully get out of their business.

“It’s for people past the concept phase,” Ford said, “but we work with people from idea to exit.”

“We want to foster the next generation of business leaders,” said Ginny Hutchinson, head of Zero Point Partners, a business mentoring firm, and a Silicon Couloir trustee. “We want to help people who are trying to figure out Jackson and create a business.”

Fellow trustee Liza Millet, a portfolio manager at Income Focus Portfolio Management, said the involvement of the volunteer mentors comes naturally for many professionals.

“When you’re more seasoned in your own career,” she said, “you begin to see a way to help the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs.”

This past summer’s trial run included Extherid Biosciences, a firm researching treatments for bacteriological afflictions; Franco Snowshapes, a snowboard manufacturing company; and Buddy Pegs, which publishes books encouraging kids’ biking and bike activities. Also included were Give’r, Pirate Ship and Arm’s Reach Industries.

Ford said the six exemplify the kind of “nontraditional” businesses that TEAMS hopes to encourage, small endeavors that diversify the Jackson Hole economy and that don’t duplicate businesses that thrive here without assistance. She said TEAMS stays away from traditional tourism-related startups and also businesses focused on development.

Several TEAMS members attended an MIT orientation program in September 2017 before starting work in Jackson. The MIT program then had about 77 local affiliates around the world, and now has about 100. The list of local mentors was initially 15 people, though TEAMS hopes to add new people and specialities.

The mentorship relationship begins with regularly scheduled meetings, but as time passes it’s likely to evolve into a looser arrangement in which mentors and business owners meet only to deal with specific problems. Some people might quickly grow out of needing assistance, others might seek advice for years, Ford said.

The program is free for the people on the receiving end of the help. Some of the cost of starting the program was paid by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. Partner corporations and local fundraising, including Old Bill’s, have also contributed.

Upwards of 20 businesses have looked into the program, Ford said, and there are six new hopefuls interested in the next session, which begins officially Jan. 1.

Silicon Couloir is a nonprofit that encourages new businesses in the area. Besides the TEAMs program, it offers other leadership training; Chance Meetings, a monthly networking social gathering; and Pitch Day, in which people with bright business ideas pitch them to a panel of experts and a general audience in an attempt to win some seed money for their efforts.

People interested in the TEAMS program can contact Silicon Couloir at SiliconCouloir.com.


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