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Idaho Business Out Loud interview: Matt Gilkerson, Trailhead Boise, program manager

photo of matthew gilkerson

Matthew Gilkerson

Four years ago, a unique coworking space opened at 8th Street and 500 South in downtown Boise.

Today, Trailhead is a hub for startups, entrepreneurs, freelancers and remote employees looking for community, camaraderie and collaboration.

Matt Gilkerson, Trailhead program manager, recently sat down with Liz Patterson Harbauer, host of the Idaho Business Review’s Out Loud podcast, to discuss upcoming events, including Boise Startup Week and its popular Trailmix food product pitch competition. He also delves into Trailhead’s impact on the Treasure Valley’s growing startup ecosystem.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why don’t we start with an overview of Trailhead?

Trailhead is a 4-year-old 501(c)3 nonprofit. We’re backed by the City of Boise, CCDC, Albertsons Companies, Micron, Perkins Coie, Cradlepoint and many other businesses that align with a common mission to foster entrepreneurship and support the growth of a vibrant startup ecosystem here in Boise.

You have a lot of companies in different industries working out of Trailhead, don’t you?

We have a really great diversity of types of businesses or startups or entrepreneurs in general that we work with, whether it is remote workers, freelancers or a budding entrepreneur. We have all those sitting behind us in the space right now. We also at our Trailhead North space, which is just a few hundred feet up the block, we have more established startups. One example is Lovevery, which is a startup by Jessica Rolph as well as Natural Intelligence, which is a spinoff of Micron. Both are doing really well and growing rapidly and hopefully are going to be spinning up and off into the big world soon.

I remember last year in Boise Startup Week, one of my favorite events was Trailmix, which you hosted here. Last year was the first year, right?

Although last year was the first year, it has actually been in the works so to speak at Trailhead for quite a while, quite a few years now. Albertsons has been a huge supporter of Trailhead since our inception as an organization, so we developed relationships and ties with them and they supported us through a variety of different ways. It was at an event that we were hosting with Albertsons that one of our members who was working on a food product was introduced to an executive and was then able to get their food product on the shelves of Albertsons and now expand and grow by both meeting these executives and they attended some of our programs to help them start and grow and scale their business. Now they are going to be distributed throughout the country and it was really that connection that initial touchpoint that kind of was the genesis of Trailmix, the opportunity of helping specifically food product startups. It was through that relationship that we really thought how can we be more intentional and strategic about this support, and through a lot of different conversations with many different people within our organization, we came up with Trailmix, this pitch competition where the winner of the pitch gets shelf space in Albertsons as well as prize money and a myriad of other support through our partners and sponsors.

Last year was the first year we’ve done it, and we had a huge turnout. We had, if you can believe it, this whole space behind us, this large warehouse turned coworking space, was filled with over 30 local food products sampling their goods.

Samples were the best part. I discovered so many local foods and companies.   

What was your favorite sample?

I don’t want to play favorites, but I loved the teas, the guy with the fruit teas.

The name of that company is Voce, and Jeff (Snyder) was one of the finalists, so they are really awesome and continuing to expand. He was trying to get a machine to scale up his production so he can distribute more widely, but I know you can pick up his product at the Boise Co-op as one location.

photo of trailmix samples

Samples at the Trailmix pitch competition during Boise Startup Week. Photo by Liz Patterson Harbauer.

The company that won Trailmix last year is based out of Coeur d’Alene. 

Yes, the name of that company is Snacktivist. The founder of that company is Joni Kindwall-Moore, and she was phenominal. She works with ancient grains and baked goods, so cookies. There’s a myrida of products she produces for people who have dietary restrictions be it glueten or wheat or grain allergins. She works to provide some delicious treats and she was actually at Trailhead a few months ago for a happy hour we hosted where we got to learn a little bit about how things have been going with her through this process, and she is actually going to be here this year at Trailmix and we will give a little shout-out on stage.

You can find her products on the shelves of Albertsons. 

Exactly. She is working a lot on developing her packaging and her process and products. There’s so many things that go into getting your product developed for shelf space and wider distribution. She’s deep in this big long process, but there is a really great Facebook Live interview on Trailhead’s Facebook account that you can check out with her that provides that update. And just so you know, this year’s Trailmix will be on Oct. 9th. Door are going to be opening at 2:00 or 2:30.

Boise Startup Week is a huge part of what Trailhead does. Can you tell us about other programs that are coming up soon for entrepreneurs?

Thank you for asking. I tend to get caught up in Boise Startup Week. It is our marquee event that happens once a year. It’s almost a festival, but we also do a bunch of different other programs, and I would love to speak about a few of those that I am most excited about, one being a grant that we received through the KeyBank Foundation. We are partnering with the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, and the goal of this program is to teach entrepreneurial skills through experiential learning to rural high school students in the state. It is actually kicking off the middle of next month, we will be working with eight schools throughout rural Idaho, deliver this entrepreneurial content with IDLA, and then deliver a pitch competition where the winning teams and school get scholarship and prize money, respectively. It is an exciting educational program that we’re doing, and I really like that we are reaching out to the rural districts because they are often underrepresented in the state. I also think it is really important to foster entrepreneurship at any age. We do a great job here locally through our various organizations to foster that as early as middle and even elementary school through various organizations like the STEM Action Center and IDLA, but all of that really does feed into what we are trying to do here at Trailhead, which is support and grow entrepreneurship in any way we can in the community.

photo of trailhead

Trailhead, a co-working space in downtown Boise, is partnering with KeyBank on a program to encourage student entrepreneurs. File photo.

I saw something about a women entrepreneur program.

Yes, I am very excited. We are partnering up with an organization called the Women’s Startup Lab. They are based out of California. They are putting on an international women’s showcase on Sept. 19th. The pitches will be here at Trailhead. We will be having five or so companies pitch, female entrepreneurs or startups, pitch to an international audience of investors starting at 3:00. We will also be hosting a keynote and some workshops and discussions before and after those pitches as part of the event. But it is called the Women’s International Entrepreneurial Showcase and it is a 24-hour showcase across the entire world. They will be going across the globe depending on the time zones and showcasing those entrepreneurs live via the web to those investors. I mentioned the keynote and panel workshops that will be happening before and after here in Boise at Trailhead.

To get back to the essence of Trailhead, could you sum up what Trailhead offers to the business community?

We have the physical brick-and-mortar benefits if you will. That’s the physical coworking space I am referring to where we have fiber internet, we have a variety of types of work spaces — everything from private offices down to flex open work spaces. The other side of it is our workshops and programs that we host and those range from Boise Startup Week all the way to monthly Lunch and Learns, which we bring in subject matter experts and they talk about a topic over the lunch hour to community members and Trailhead members.

So Trailhead really is a resource for the Treasure Valley. I worked out of Trailhead two years ago, and there was this environment of making connections. Would you say the events and programs have grown over the past year or so?

Yeah I would say over the past year, we’ve made an effort to expand on our programming and reach out to a lot of different groups and partner with a lot of different organizations and hope to continue to do more of that. One thing that is often understated is the value of working around people with a common goal and vision. There is so much power in meeting people and building that community and ecosystem if you will. I have been with Trailhead for four years now, and it is amazing to see how much it has grown. Every time I come into the space, there are more and more people working out of here.

What do you see happening at Trailhead in the future?

I don’t know exactly what it will look like a year from now, but I do anticipate future growth through our programming and our member base. One thing that is really important with working with startups, and as a startup for that matter, is being able to pivot and change direction based on the needs of your organization, so that’s something that I know is at the forefront of everyone’s mind here at Trailhead is constantly growing and learning the needs of our members and developing programming and content that supports that.

About Liz Harbauer