Last night I had the honor of serving as one of ten judges on the selection committee for the Something Independent 2012 Entrepreneur Award, a $1,500 prize designed to showcase the next wave of Colorado business leaders. After viewing 90-second video pitches from 23 semi-finalists, we narrowed it down to three finalists -- Mile High Mountaineering (aka MHM Gear), CondorCam and Apex Ski Boots -- before ultimately awarding the prize to MHM Gear.
"I think we're all just blown away that we were even in the top-three finalists, much less winning it," MHM brand manager Casey Lorenzen says. "It's huge for us. The exposure alone is going to be great for our company, and I think that's the biggest part of it. Obviously the money helps, too: We're going to grow our brand with it. We have a lot of ideas in the pipeline for how we want to expand with new lines and new innovations, so this helps for sure."
See also: - Flylow Gear wins first annual Something Independent Entrepreneur Award - Folsom Custom Skis, RMU, Icelantic dominate Freeskier Top 10 "Microbrew" list - Colorado's smallest ski companies are going big
The company, just three years old, is no stranger to exposure: MHM's "Snake-Loader" Salute 34 pack was featured on the cover of Backpacker's 2012 Gear Guide in July, was named one of Men's Health's Top 5 Products for 2012, and has won similar nods from Outside, Climbing and Urban Climber.
"It's just been our creative process from the beginning to start from scratch and really re-think everything," says MHM founder, president and product-development manager Jeff Popp, explaining the origin of the "Snake-Loader" design. "We drew up all kinds of ideas and one of the wildest was a pack with two J-zippers. Then we thought, 'What the hell, why not connect them?' It's become our most popular pack and the most recognizable thing we make, and there's no pack like it with that kind of versatility. Because of that zipper design, you can open the pack out flat, you can pinpoint different sections of the pack... it's really gotten the industry's attention."
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Boulder-based Apex Ski Boots, the third finalist, is a new company from ski-industry veteran Denny Hanson (inventor of the rear-entry ski boot system and founder of Hanson Ski Boots), whose innovation is a two-part system aimed at giving skiers the same level of comfort and control over their ski boots as snowboard boots, pairing a walkable support boot with a BOA dial system and a tunable open-chassis support structure.
Other Colorado companies among last night's nominees included gear deals website ActiveJunky.com, T-shirt company Alkaline Clothing, Astis Mittens, green-building education program Bould, the Denver Beer Company, Phil Anson's EVOL Foods burrito empire, Folsom Custom Skis, Grace Skis, Yolanda' Long's Basalt-based soup company In The Soup, Pat Hartman and Ron Popma's Mobile Canning operation, Oogavé Soda, Evergreen-based upstart Oz Snowboards, Julie Adams' Pakems packable boot system, mountain event guide PeakVibe.com, Ashley Rankin's women's mountain biking apparel company Shredly, Vail-based ski outerwear company Skea Ltd., Erin and Erik Royer's Snug Organics baby clothing line, John Cummins' designer hardwood longboard company Street Swell, Julie Nirvelli's White Girl Salsa, and Boulder-based Wild Goose Canning Technologies. To see video submissions from each of the companies, check out the 2012 Something Independent Entrepreneur Award channel on Vimeo.com.
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"Here in Colorado we have a unique group of entrepreneurs and developing businesses that's unlike anywhere else," says Popp. "Being a part of that bigger picture with all these companies is probably the coolest thing about this award: not just winning it, but also being among all these awesome companies and meeting all these awesome people doing their own thing here in Colorado."