Since 2013, Colorado Springs native Rhea Phaneuf has served as the marketing and events project manager for the El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization at UCCS.
She has worked in marketing and events for more than 15 years, including stints with Ent Credit Union, BluSky Restoration Contractors and the Professional Bull Riders.
Earlier this week, Phaneuf sat down with the Business Journal and talked about innovation, entrepreneurship, UCCS and Colorado Springs.
How did you end up in Colorado Springs?
I’m actually from the Springs. I finished high school at St. Mary’s when it was still located downtown. After high school, I decided to globetrot a fair bit and traveled around until I eventually landed in Boulder. In 2003, I was going to CU and working for a tech company in Boulder and wanted to be closer to family I have in Colorado Springs. I found a job opportunity with Professional Bull Riders that allowed me to travel — but to be based in the Springs. I relocated to Colorado Springs in December, 2003, and I haven’t left since.
Tell us about your position at EPIIC and the organization.
As the marketing and events project manager for EPIIC I have a stack of hats I get to wear on a daily basis. However, my passion is organizing the community events.
In January (Jan. 29-31) we have the Global Game Jam, which is essentially the startup weekend for gamers. Participants conceptualize and then create both electronic and board games in a team environment over a weekend. Teams can then decide after the weekend if they want to take it further and actually push out and market what they have created. We’ve actually had this happen a couple of times in the last two years, which is fantastic.
On March 17 we have the UCCS Lion’s Den Pitch Night collegiate event that allows student entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges who are business leaders in the community. The winner receives a cash prize to help push their business idea forward.
On April 20 we will have Ignite Colorado Springs which is a broad event that showcases ideas, innovation, creativity and leadership in our region.
Finally on May 5 we will have TEDxUCCS. We’re still putting some structure around this event, but I see it as a beautiful mix of local storytellers, national and possibly international speakers.
EPIIC’s mission is to assist creative individuals and organizations in transforming innovative ideas into economic opportunity.
There are many exciting initiatives underway at UCCS, how does EPIIC fit in?
I think the best way to describe our piece of the puzzle is that EPIIC is here to help the development of innovation and entrepreneurship in the community. We also want to be part of the synergy between the groups in town that want to foster this type of growth. As an independent program within the university, we have a lot of room for creativity and innovation.
Is Colorado Springs a good environment for young professionals? How can it improve?
Colorado Springs is a great environment for young professionals. It’s a relatively small city and you can get to know it pretty easily. We have access to some of the most beautiful scenery and outdoor sports just minutes from our doorstep. I think where we could improve is by creating more opportunities for young people to meet and be social. The development of University Village is a good step towards that direction. We just need to keep pushing for more, so we can attract and retain young talent. We find it’s very easy to start a new business here, but much harder to keep it going. We have to find ways to encourage new small businesses, and also reduce the outflow of the talent we produce to Denver and other cities. We have everything here to make this a place that people would want to stay in.