Mentors show entrepreneurs the way

Franco Snowshapes, Extherid and other new businesses get guidance through Silicon Couloir program.

Franco Snowshapes founder Mikey Franco, center, works with mentors Matt Confer, left, Alex Muromcew and Johnny Tozzi.

A group of entrepreneurs with good ideas and a commitment to hard work have found that those things aren’t all they need.

But they’ve also found some help for their next step in making their endeavors successful and profitable.

“There are folks who’ve gone through this before who can show me the pitfalls and help steer me,” said Mikey Franco, the creator of Franco Snowshapes, a snowboard manufacturing company. “I have a business, I have a business plan, I had the model — what I need is help to guide me.”

About as far from the snowboarding business as you can get, Marnie Peterson is a microbiologist and owner of Extherid Biosciences, a Jackson firm that works on ways to treat infectious bacteriological conditions. What she shares with Franco and several other new businesses is a recognition that good products need good management to prosper.

“We’re at that stage where we’re a startup but entering into a stage of growth,” she said. Turning her skills into a business “poses a whole new level of business strategy, business operations.”

The help for Franco, Peterson and several other businesses is coming from a new Silicon Couloir program called Teton Entrepreneurs and Mentors Service, or TEAMS. The program is modeled on one at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Venture Mentoring Service. VMS is aimed at businesses that are past their beginnings but in need of some guidance from people who are expert in how to run a business.

Jenn Ford, the executive director of Silicon Couloir, said the goal is to offer guidance for new businesspeople “from initial idea to exit strategy.”

Silicon Couloir sent four board members and two staffers to a three-day training session at MIT’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus last September. TEAMS was the 77th “sister” mentoring program affiliated and trained at MIT. The Jackson effort has just begun and will run through October.

The first job for Silicon Couloir, Ford said, was to find and train 20 people in the community who know the kind of things that entrepreneurs may not be focused on in the initial stage of starting a business: operations, marketing, finance and law. They’re assigned in teams of four or five to mentor businesses.

Franco has been in the snowboard industry “my whole life,” more than 30 years, he said. He began building boards in 2010 and started his business in 2014. He creates boards made especially for the buyer — “each board is one of a kind” — and sells direct, no retail. He has one full-time summer employee and adds about seven part-time in the winter. He’s looking at adding a full-timer or two sometime soon.

Franco Snowshapes sold about 75 boards last year, and aims for 125 in his next full year.

“We’re looking in the near future at 300 boards a year,” he said.

Franco has worked for years for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and still instructs and guides 15 to 20 days a year. But he’s committed to the board business as his livelihood.

Peterson, with a doctorate in infection, has been working in her field for 20 years, and worked with the University of Minnesota. She is now a research professor with the University of Wyoming. She’s done work for the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. She started Extherid just less than two years ago and has a goal of “developing new drugs and technology to prevent and treat infectious diseases.”

Among Extherid’s current projects is “porcine skin,” repurposed hog skin that provides a way to test the efficacy and safety of new treatments. She buys the skin from a Star Valley hog farmer.

“We basically do our research in partnership with Fortune 500 companies, small biotech startups and other partners,” she said.

Among her five employees are some local people who were “able to move back to Jackson to have a position in alignment with their career goals” rather than taking the usual route — out of state to traditional centers of scientific work.

But while her work may be out of the usual for Jackson, her needs as a businessperson were the same, and that’s what drew her to TEAMS.

“The mentors are very successful people with a lot of experience,” Peterson said. “When you start a business you’re wearing all these hats, and you don’t have time to do everything. The staff of the TEAMS program help a lot.”

The other firms involved in the pilot TEAMS effort are Give’r, Pirate Ship, Arm’s Reach Industries and Buddy Pegs Media. Each business operator is coached by people who run businesses or specialize in some aspect of business development. They’ll meet regularly through October to report on progress and ask for guidance.

“It’s not that they don’t know what to do, but they want someone to talk to about it,” Ford said of the participants. “These are people who are very talented, but they could use a sounding board, a mini board of directors, people who can advise and also hold you accountable.”

Ford said Silicon Couloir had to narrow the field of applicants for the program. She receives inquiries every week from people who would like the kind of help the program offers. After the initial program ends she anticipates taking some time “to look at what’s working and what needs to be tweaked.”

But she predicted the program will continue, as will interest from businesspeople.

“There will always be a need for this for any company that’s trying to grow or adapt to market changes,” Ford said. “That’s never going to go away.”

Contact Mark Huffman at 732-5907 or

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