The El Pomar chairs are filled and the three professors occupying them at the University of Colorado at Colorado have been charged with a daunting task: stimulating economic development in the Pikes Peak region through their research.
The appointment of Dr. Michael Larson, Dr. Clark Maxam and Dr. Terry Boult marks the first time in 17 years that all three positions have been filled at the same time.
El Pomar provided the university with a $3 million endowment in 1990 to create new jobs, new products and new companies.
“We are very excited about them individually; their credentials are extraordinary,” said UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak. “They have wonderful academic credentials, but they also have impressive records in technology transfer, venture capital and economic development.”
Shockley-Zalabak said the men’s backgrounds in engineering and finance will be a resource for the community.
“We’re hoping to see new forms of economic development through this partnership,” she said. “I know they are going to be highly involved as we put together —with CITTI (Colorado Institute of Technology Transfer and Implementation) — the on-campus research park.”
Two of the chairs are well-known in Colorado Springs, said Brenda Speer, a board member for the Peak Venture Group. She believes that the three will serve as liaison between academia and industry.
“They will definitely be a benefit on the collaborative side,” she said. “Clark (Maxam) has already presented at the PVG about venture capital and financing for start-ups. He’s so well versed in that area. Having them focusing their knowledge in economic development will enrich the knowledge base of the new companies that are interested in funding and finance. It’s great to have these kinds of fertile, creative minds.”
Larson, the El Pomar Chair of Engineering and Innovation in the College of Engineering, moved to Colorado Springs from Tulane University, a result of Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans.
He has only been in town a little over a month and is still unpacking at his offices at University Hall. He pushes aside a carton containing a laser to show off a “rapid prototyping” machine — which makes plastic parts using a computer design.
“This will allow us to create parts for a prototype, that you can hold in your hands and see what changes can be made,” he said. “We’ll be brainstorming to talk about product objectives and tools — and then create prototypes. From there, we could be creating entire new companies.”
Larson knows about creating companies. He owns two, one that markets and sells a board game that uses lasers to move playing pieces, similar to chess, and another that creates and sells medical devices which make surgery easier.
His research areas include homeland security and microelectronics reliability. He has received more than $6 million in research funding from the National Science Foundation, TRW Corp., the U.S. Air Force and the Lilly Foundation to increase high school student interest in engineering fields.
Larson, who has a doctoral degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he jumped at the chance to do something other than pure academic research.
“The university actually is trying to link academics with local industries,” he said. “That was a big plus. The job carries a mandate to stimulate the economy. I plan to use the design studio to create products, it’s very different from the traditional academic things professors do.”
Calling the opportunity “unique,” Maxam plans to work on the business and finance end of technology transfer.
“I’m not aware of any other opportunity like this,” he said. “The dual appointment is definitely different. I’ll be researching, teaching and working on business development.”
Maxam has a doctoral degree from Indiana University and moved to UCCS from Colorado College, where he taught business and finance.
“I think the idea of economic and business development from the university is going to have a strong potential for growth in the community,” he said. “I have a Wall Street background and spent a number of years trading and in money management. This is definitely a great opportunity.”
Maxam brings more than 20 years to his position as El Pomar Chair of Entrepreneurial Finance in the College of Engineering, including working with start-up companies, mergers and acquisitions, and venture capital financing. He joined the faculty at Colorado College in 2004. Before that, he worked at Montana State University and Indiana University. Prior to his work in academia, he was an arbitrage trader and broker at the Chicago Board of Trade and worked in banking.
Boult is the senior UCCS researcher. He’s been at the university for three years as the El Pomar Chair of Communication and Computation in the College of Engineering.
Boult founded the computer science department at Lehigh University, where he worked from 1994 to 2003. He works in advanced biometrics through Securics, a company he started to market UCCS research projects.
His projects have implications for the homeland security field, including research on facial recognition software, visual and computer surveillance and wireless networks. Boult holds four patents, and has eight pending.
He joined with his colleagues in praising the university for its decision to marry academics and business.
“Collaboration is a good way to grow,” he said. “We have different backgrounds, so there are different things we can do. This is definitely unusually. Many academics view mixing with business as tainting their research. UCCS believes that we’re here to solve real problems for people. If you can create companies, or stimulate existing companies, then at least you know you’re doing something that people care about.”
Working with businesses — or creating your own — is something that is unusual in the academic community, Larson said. But some universities, MIT and Stanford among them, have a long history of benefiting from intellectual property created by their professors.
“In some quarters, the union between traditional academics and for-profit business is dirty business,” he said. “But there is a growing realization in the U.S. economy is going to continue to thrive, that we have to innovate, get thinking. The way to continue to thrive is by being creative. Students in engineering need to be in touch with not just how to create research but how to create real products for real people.”
Creating real products is something Boult has helped local companies achieve during his three years at UCCS. His contacts will help the three achieve their mission as El Pomar chairs, he said.
“And Dr. Maxam’s contacts in the business and finance world will help, as well Dr. Larson’s contacts in engineering,” Boult said. “We each come from different worlds, so we each bring something to the table.”
The three are charged with hefty job descriptions. In addition to their research in lasers, biometrics or finance, they must also become involved in the community — helping local companies find venture capital, grant funding or new products.
It’s a mission that El Pomar is happy to finance, said William J. Hybl, the organization’s chairman and CEO.
“The El Pomar chairs are important to the academic reputation of UCCS and to the economic development of Colorado Springs,” he said. “These three individuals continue the legacy of intellectual, private sector and local economic development, priorities that the El Pomar trustees envisioned with this endowment was established 17 years ago.”