They inspire. They innovate. In the end, they create. Our Colorado Young Guns list highlights young entrepreneurs pursuing their passion for the irresistible, impossible and imperfect all while striving to push the music, fashion and entertainment industries to the next level.
Founder, The Basics Fund and Bus to Show
Dustin Huth devoted the past six years of his life to running a company that provides safe transportation to concerts and events all over the country in a fun atmosphere. The Basics Fund, which Huth runs concurrently with Bus to Show, is a non-profit organization that sponsors local musicians and provides everything from concert promotion to health care.
In 2002, as Huth dreamed about leaving his job with Bonfils Blood Center to become a transient dharma bum, the film production company that made the Worland Warriors ski videos offered him a writing job. He eschewed his Kerouacian plans and, several years later, inherited a bus when the company went out of business. Of course he took it to Bonaroo with a bunch of friends. The crew, including director of operations Charles Kern, invested its leftover money to start The Basics Fund and Bus to Show.
The Colorado DOT recognized it for its work and sponsored the program. It has received attention from some other big names as well.
“Umphrey’s McGee called me,” Huth said. “High Times Magazine called me! Sonic Bloom called me! Arise Music Festival called me! I can keep going.”
In the future, he said he plans to open more chapters across the country. Meanwhile Huth and company will attend the 8th International Conference on Nightlife, Substance Use and Related Health Issues. Last month, BTS held a competition picking 16 of the most talented electronic producers to be featured on its “on board artist roster” to spin sets en route to shows and festivals. So, if you’re planning on seeing a show near or far this summer, chances are BTS can get you there and back, safe and sound. Also, you’ll have a fucking blast and meet cool folks.
Owner, Blackspy Marketing
When a string-cheese incident spawns a marketing agency, it can only be Colorado, and only in the enthusiastic hands of Blackspy marketing’s Jon Eisenberg could it thrive.
Eisenberg sharpened his teeth at SCI, an independent record label owned by The String Cheese Incident family. Here his passion for music took off and led him to found Blackspy, a company designed to accommodate artists, festivals and events with full-service streets teams and grassroots marketing campaigns.
Eisenberg joined Hot Buttered Rum’s marketing team in ’08 and in ’09 he was brought on to work for Railroad Earth. Since then, Blackspy’s client list reads like a roster of who’s who in Colorado, complete with bands, venues and festivals — Live Nation is the most recent. Over the years and with the growing success,
Eisenberg maintained the company’s original mission to go above and beyond, connecting and empowering fans with their favorite bands to encourage a vibrant and sustainable local music scene.
Eisenberg acknowledges success wouldn’t be possible without the strength of Blackspy’s local and national street team, an ever-growing network of volunteers who embody a proactive nature and like-minded love for music. In the ever-changing industry of music, genres come and go, lending to an environment of constant adaptation. Eisenberg calls this his biggest challenge.
“Denver has an active music scene,” he said. “Boulder and Fort Collins are unique in their own right. The challenge of seeking targeted demographics for Blackspy events is an item we strive to perfect.”
Founder, So Gnar
After a tragic snowboarding accident took a close friend in 2004, Pat Milbery decided life was too short not to do what you love.
The tragedy inspired So Gnar, a business built around everything Milbery loves and wants to share.
“We create through everyday inspiration from our friendships, music and snowboarding, which is where the roots of So-Gnar originate,” Milbery said. “Our underground world of design (is) inspired through our blessed life of submarine travels below the surface of mainstream commonality.”
Gnar works to spread positivity and inspiration through video, art, apparel and events on a global scale. One of the biggest and most successful of its ventures, Snowboard On The Rocks, featured an amalgamation of snowboarding and music. Other examples include the Shredded Beats Concert Series, A Truck Named Art, its annual Snowboard Camp Tour and the Shred Circuit Contest Series.
When musician Greta Cornett recognized an impermanence in FoCo’s diverse and thriving music scene and a lack of any way to showcase its talent, she founded non-profit FoCoMA, first hosting events in 2010.
FoCoMA provides education and a forum for local musicians to assimilate into the scene. Its ceremony recognizing the area’s best musicians of each genre became a harbinger of an all-inclusive showcase prior to its peer awards. The underestimated popularity of this idea quickly turned into a music festiva, the Fort Collins Music eXperiment, or FoCoMX.
In the first year of the experiment, Cornett and company planned to include 20 bands at four venues. What they actually got was 107 bands in nine venues. Five years deep, the event matured to include 241 bands at 24 venues. Also, it’s entirely volunteer-run.
“One thing we’d really like to see is that it become sustainable, but I’m not sure it can be the way the model is now,” Cornett said. “We might at some point have to hire staff because it’s gotten a lot of national attention, which is great.”
In addition to national press attention, FoCoMX also draws talent agencies and attendees from all over the country, particularly those from cities with burgeoning music scenes. So in addition to just providing a weekend of local music concerts, Cornett truly developed an opportunity for FoCo’s local artists to enjoy exposure and promotion.
Nick and Alex Martini
Owners, Stept Productions
Becoming a sponsored freestyle skier isn’t an easy task, but the Martini family managed to raise two such professional athletes. That might have something to do with the fact that Nick and Alex Martini’s parents strapped a pair of skis to their feet before they even developed basic motor skills.
“For us it is actually easier to stand up on skis than without them,” says Alex Martini.
Before the modern freestyle scene came to prominence, the brothers ski raced on the East Coast, but found themselves at odds with the culture. In high school, the boys found their place in the freestyle movement and quickly made a name for themselves, picking up major sponsorships.
Competitive athletes in freeskiing have two routes: trying to succeed in the competition circuit and/or making films. Nevertheless, with little formal schooling in cinematography, the men took their self-taught knowledge and a little paternal instillment of entrepreneurial spirit to start action sports film project Stept Productions.
Stept Productions has grown for 12 years, a known name in the action sports world. The men augmented their platform and income by producing documentaries, ads and short films as well as selling merchandise. Still, getting noticed in the ski film industry wasn’t easy as they competed with Poor Boys and Matchstick Productions. Stept found its unique identity by featuring fresh talent and focusing on the non-traditional, but progressive side of street skiing.
Mark and James Aleks
When a small business success in skincare marketing and distribution led brothers Mark and James Aleks to drop out of college and pursue their own business, Denver made it a reality.
Mark and James Aleks founded their company after only a few years at Springfield Technical Community College. When their Fountain of Youth successes got too tempting, the pair found inspiration in the Mile High City, and the rest is history.
The two were quickly captivated by the Colorado way of life and soon asked if there were an easier way to enhance lifestyles. Shortly after, the Zaca brand — namely a recovery patch — was born, and the rest is, as they say, history.
“If it wasn’t for our first trip to Denver in 2005, the company might not exist,” says co-founder Mark Aleks.
The Zaca recovery patch is an organic, proprietary blend of supplements that contain no stimulants, no sugars and no calories. It gets its name from Zacatecas, Mexico, an area beloved for both its vibrant lifestyle and its prickly pears, which are included in the patch’s mix.
Owner, 11E1even Group
Ben Baruch has been a key fixture in the Colorado music scene for years now, and his role is ever expansive. If you’ve seen a show at the Fox or Boulder theaters in the past several years, it’s highly likely Baruch booked the show. As if that’s not an assiduous dream job for many, Baruch runs a talent management company of his own.
The provenance of his ventures began with a desire to bring jam band culture to the Los Angeles music scene with a more laid-back, New Orleans feel. This experiment proved wildly successful, prompting Baruch to start his initial concert promotion company, Wagatail Productions, in 2005.
Today, Wagatail exists as a subset under his umbrella promotion and management firm, 11E1even Group. 11E1even Management is best known for being Big Gigantic’s talent agency, but it also manages actors, screen writers and cinematographers. Most recently, Baruch joined forces with Nick Guarino’s thissongissick.com, lending his business guile and industry connections to the media outlet. Oh, and he’s a musician himself.
Fortunately, but not accidentally, everything Baruch does is intrinsically connected.
“Since everything under 11E1even goes hand in hand, I’m looking to always grow at a healthy rate,” he said. “I have a hard time saying no to things that I see potential in and good opportunities.”
Baruch said his passion for what he does makes those 12- to 14-hour work days routine, only hindered by the amount of traveling required of him. As for the future of his business, it’s anyone’s guess.
“I could see 11E1even getting into fashion, restaurants and many other things along the way,” Baruch said. “I like a lot of things and like to have fun with it.”
If you’ve got talent, he’s the guy you want behind you.
Jacob “Charlie” Bessey
Co-Founder, Coalatree Organics
Jacob “Charlie” Bessey’s life exists on a foundation of health and the consumption of home-grown goods produced on his Coalatree farm.
It lies just outside of the small city of New Castle on the Colorado River and is the headquarters to his lifestyle-based brand Coalatree Organics. Key retailers in the extreme sports market immediately grabbed on to Coalatree when it first launched its apparel line last spring.
The apparel line’s success played a pivotal role in the expansion of the farm, which is 100 percent not for profit. All of the food grown on the Coalatree Farm is donated, mostly to the riders and artists on its team. It also offers its organic nourishment to the wildly successful Vice party down at South by Southwest, events at the Copper Woodward camp and others that follow its mission.
“We grow food and grow the riders that we sponsor,” he said. “You’ve got to watch what you put into your body so you can stay rallying. What you put in determines how hard you can get up and ride the next day.”
When he was 19, the owner of Skullcandy took Bessey in as part of the company’s marketing team. While he was going to school for it, he said he found the experience of being a part of the company was far more valuable than any school could offer.
“I was able to see the things that they did which were positive, and I wanted to create something that had a charity behind it like that, and had the message that I believed in that I could bring to this industry,” Bessey said.