After growing up in Colorado Springs and graduating from Palmer High School in 2009, Jacob Eichengreen, executive director of the QUAD Innovation Partnership, decided to pursue higher education away from home. So the 27-year-old obtained his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
From there, Eichengreen went to work for Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos, in Las Vegas in 2013. Eichengreen’s responsibilities included bringing startups to the Nevada city through the Downtown Project, an economic development initiative of Hsieh’s. In 2014, Eichengreen was awarded a grant from Fulbright to start his own company, Bloom Micro Financial, a microfinance company that operates out of Uganda, where he had previously studied abroad while in college.
After living in Africa for a year, Eichengreen was approached by Pikes Peak Community College President Lance Bolton, who asked if he would be interested in the new executive director position of QUAD, a program operated by UCCS, PPCC, Colorado College and the U.S. Air Force Academy that helps students find connections and job opportunities in Colorado Springs through innovation and entrepreneurship.
Eichengreen accepted the position in August of last year, and still works as the CEO for Bloom.
He spoke with the Business Journal about returning as a young professional to Colorado Springs.
Describe your role as executive director of QUAD.
Right now my role is everything — taking out the trash, working with school leaders on the strategy and implementing the strategy, developing partnerships and making sure we’re building a team and working with area organizations. … We’re starting our assistant director [Bekah Adair] on [Nov. 13]. … She’s going to be focused on running teams and projects, and making sure the needs of all the stakeholders are met. … That will allow my work to continue to focus on development on our Colorado sales pipeline for building these additional projects in the future.
What do you like about working in Colorado Springs?
This is home, and the work of the QUAD is building a community that I can be proud of, that I can get excited about. My role is really a facilitator in this. I‘m coaching the students, I’m mentoring them. Our teams are students, professors and businesses. … It’s so much fun to be in that role and working with organizations in town to say, ‘This is a cool problem that I remember talking about when I was a kid.’ [Now] I am helping build a team, helping build resources and helping facilitate progress in those areas.
How is QUAD helping to retain young professionals?
If we can help students see that, whatever their aspiration is, it’s [possible] because they have a relationship with somebody in town who’s doing similar work … then they’re more likely to stay here because they have that relationship to help them get to where they want to go. If we can help build those relationships, networks and then participate in that process of changing the perception of opportunity here, the sky’s the limit and we see it already.
What have you learned from owning a business abroad?
Uganda is a much less formal society. Ugandan business doesn’t rely on contracts and lawyers — written stuff doesn’t exist there as much. So much about being successful there is related to understanding who you’re working with … [and] understanding the culture that you’re coming out of, understanding the why behind certain things. Sometimes it’s really small differences. I worked with one group [in Uganda] that has 35 members in it, but there are 50 people in that group. It took me nine months to figure out a husband and wife were considered one member. … That’s one of the key pieces we brought into the QUAD, is thinking about the cultures of each campus that’s represented here.
What advice would you give to young professionals?
[Think more] about the types of opportunities that are in this community. We’re not a community that when you go on Indeed.com you see a lot of really exciting job opportunities. … We still have a lot of those traditional entry-level positions available, but that isn’t always super compelling. … It’s not just about going on Indeed.com to find a job description that’s interesting, it’s thinking about what problem you want to solve, who plays in that general arena and convening those conversations to figure out how you can add value.