Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series on the Colorado Springs entrepreneurial environment. For the first and second parts in the series, click here:
The Colorado Springs Technology Incubator closed in April, leaving local entrepreneurs without a single source for business support, office space, consulting and legal needs that are important when creating a successful startup.
But other organizations are filling the gap left behind by the incubator, which is now focused on technology transfer opportunities with the Air Force Academy, becoming a business accelerator and a “virtual” incubator under the name Rocky Mountain Innovation Partners.
Local community members and leaders have characterized Colorado Springs — unlike cities such as Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins — as having the requisite pieces to the puzzle, but no single umbrella organization to define a cohesive business ecosystem.
For collaborative workspace, many individuals and small business owners look to Epicentral Coworking, which now operates in downtown Colorado Springs and in the Ivywild School on the city’s southwest side.
For education, entrepreneurs have programs at local colleges and universities for guidance, and can seek assistance via the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center and business classes at the Pikes Peak Library District.
There are also a number of other programs and opportunities, including Peak Startup and pitch events put on by groups like One Million Cups, that support small and growing companies and allow them to share their concepts.
But many in the Colorado Springs business community await the moment when all of those separate pieces come together to create an all-inclusive collaborative environment, such as Galvanize in Denver or Innosphere in Fort Collins.
So far, Epicentral Coworking has been the most successful organization to market collaborative workspace to Colorado Springs and has even broken slightly — albeit organically — into the incubator model.
Epicentral clients and permanent tenants have recommended that owner and founder Lisa Tessarowicz venture farther into the incubator world, but she remains adamant about the company’s core function in the community.
“We are in no way an incubator and in no way an accelerator,” she said. “I’m interested in creating a community and providing space. … If Epicentral can be the space to do that — great. But we’re purely a space, and we let the people and the network inside provide that service organically.”
It’s gone pretty well, she said.
“I really hope we can come together to grow the resources for entrepreneurs in our community.” – Lisa Tessarowicz
Although there are no formal channels within the company for education, support services or access to capital, Tessarowicz said she has seen those things happen within the network she helped create.
“People are learning to do that in different ways,” she said. “We’re seeing people hire other people, businesses merging, companies working collaboratively, people investing in businesses … all within our space.”
Tessarowicz said projects across the Colorado Springs community creating more collaborative environments are exciting, but she knows it won’t happen overnight.
“I’m super-optimistic about what’s going to go on in the [former] Gazette building, but my concern is that developers and entrepreneurs move at different speeds,” she said.
“There are a lot of people talking about doing a lot of great things — there is a ton of energy and a ton of potential. I really hope we can come together to grow the resources for entrepreneurs in our community.”
While projects such as the Colorado Springs Public Market (at the former Gazette building) remain mere concepts, local businessman Kevin O’Neil is making visible progress with his Catalyst Campus, a multipurpose development in east downtown Colorado Springs that he envisions as quickly becoming a hub for technology and business in southern Colorado.
“We have a city that I think is finally all pointed in the same direction,” O’Neil told the Colorado Technology Association during an event last week at Catalyst Campus.
“We think our aerospace community is one of the most predominant and could be the largest voice in our state, like Huntsville [is for Alabama]. … We’re not wired correctly, but we’re going to try to fix that.”
Although O’Neil’s plans are specifically designed to meet Department of Defense needs, the model that he’s proposing has succeeded in other parts of the state.
O’Neil said the campus should also offer many of the amenities seen in places such as Galvanize in Denver — education, access to capital, business acceleration and collaboration.
“We’d like to be for Colorado Springs what Galvanize is for Denver,” said Jenna Celmer, director of operations and marketing for Catalyst Campus.
O’Neil said he views the campus as having a “five-legged” mission to bolster workforce development through scholarship, occupational advancement and job training, research and development, technology transfer and business/technological incubation.
Rocky Mountain Innovation Partners, formerly the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator, is currently located in a building on the Catalyst Campus and has been tapped to focus on the organization’s technology transfer endeavors. It has an agreement in place with the U.S. Air Force Academy to move innovations from the laboratory to the commercial and defense sectors.
Since November, when O’Neil announced his plans to transform the historic Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Depot and surrounding buildings into the core of what he is calling a “downtown innovation district,” the model for Catalyst Campus has grown to include a robust for-profit educational program called Catalyst Academy.
O’Neil said the Academy’s primary focus will be to fill the growing demand for workers in the technology and aerospace industries in a faster way than traditional four-year colleges and trade schools.
“Galvanize in Denver works that way, and Innosphere is moving that way,” said local entrepreneur Chris Franz during a discussion about collaborative environments and incubators with educational components. “That can be a great revenue generator.”
The nonprofit and for-profit programs at Catalyst Campus all exist under the umbrella of the Southern Colorado Technology Alliance, a 501(c) organization.
O’Neil said the campus should eventually house companies and — after renovation work and construction of a new building — will include coworking space, executive suites of varying sizes (up to 10,000 square feet) and a restaurant or two.