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Forget the elevator. Try pitching on a ski lift

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On a perfect day at the Taos Ski Valley, the skies are deep blue and the powder is fresh, thanks to a mid-week storm.

But among the skiers and snowboarders waiting for the lift, there are people with more than freshies and black diamonds on their minds. Molly Cernicek is the CEO of SportXast. She’s one of  one of 11 entrepreneurs competing for a $10,000 prize in a contest sponsored by ABQid, a business accelerator in Albuquerque. Dalton Wright is with Kickstart Seed Fund in Salt Lake City and he’s one of the investors judging the pitches from startup founders like Cernicek.

As the they settle into the chairlift and start the ascent, the wind picks up and casual chit chat ends.

“Molly, tell us about the business,” Wright says.

“We have two products, Dalton,” Cernicek answers. “The first is an app that makes it easy for parents and fans to capture and share video highlights of a game.”

Over the course of 10 minutes Wright lobs a series of questions to Cernicek.

“What’s the revenue model? Who pays for it? How is that a significant improvement over how they’re already doing things? How far along are you?”

And she answers.

“The revenue model is going to come from the Athlete Channel … Nobody’s looked at the media part of the value chain … We’re up to about 6,000 downloads and we’re starting to see a lot of activity.”

As the lift crests the top of the mountain, they jump from the chair and continue talking as they ski to the next lift for the next round of pitching.

Four finalists make the initial cut, including Cernicek, and they each make a final pitch over lunch for a large crowd. Then everyone heads for the slopes, only to reconvene later at the historic Bavarian Inn for the prize announcement. 

Katie Rice is a board member with ABQ id and the Ski Lift Pitch was her idea. An avid skier, she saw potential in the conversations that start on chair lifts. “We thought they can make a much more meaningful connection than they can at a conference or a board room or a setting like that, right?”

As the snowfall intensifies outside, attendees applaud the ultimate winner: Taos Mountain Energy Bar. The company launched in 2010 with the idea of making an anti-energy bar, namely one that actually tastes good and has decent branding. The company is in 1100 retailers now and has about $1 million in revenues. But the founders plan to expand production and reach $100 million by 2020.

New Mexico has struggled since the recession, and it’s this kind of optimism that the Ski Lift Pitch organizers hope will help pull the state from the economic doldrums.

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