Quad is helping businesses, teaching leadership

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Entrepreneurs at work in the QUAD Innovation Space.

Mike Juran hadn’t heard of Quad Innovation Partnership when he met Jake Eichengreen about a year ago at a Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC event. But he was intrigued, and discussed doing a project with his growing graphical user interface company, Altia, and the Quad.

Now Altia is one of the Quad’s three projects, along with another Colorado Springs business, clothing company Janska, and a combined  endeavor between the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County to improve access to social services in the greater metro area.

The Quad, located on the lower level of 408 S. Nevada Ave., is a joint initiative between the Air Force Academy, Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College and UCCS — with the twofold mission of helping local businesses and organizations while offering professional development to students.

There are 26 students on “fellowships” this semester, earning $1,200 each for a full term’s work on one of the projects. Each project has a faculty advisor from one of the schools.

“We are student-led, professionally managed and client-directed,” said Eichengreen, who is Quad’s executive director.

The Quad, which opened in 2014, has evolved from narrowing big-picture ideas to more focused plans into working on project-based solutions.

“These projects are coming from the companies, specific things they want to act on but don’t have the [financial or employee] capacity to do so,” said Eichengreen, who joined Quad about 18 months ago. “The students can think outside the box, and creatively identify solutions to problems the companies face, and deliver something back that is easy to implement.”

Juran, the CEO and co-founder of Altia, faced that dilemma of limited resources, but saw a solution a few months ago when he became part of an advisory board for a state program called Linked, which connects universities with companies for short-term projects.

“Quad does all the legwork and management,” Juran said in an email. “They recruit the right students and manage the project. This is critical. Otherwise, we would not have the bandwidth to do this project.”

Asked what he expects to get from the partnership, Juran said, “First, we expect to get real work done that we otherwise do not have the resources to do on our own. Second, we expect to eventually recruit and hire students from the [Quad] program.”

Altia, which opened for business in 2011, has 60 employees with revenue growing about 25 percent a year. Key Altia personnel are working with the Quad’s students to finalize a sales and demonstration package for a new data product Altia is developing. The Quad partnership will allow Altia to bring the product to market up to six months earlier than originally planned.

Impressive early work

Linked paid $20,000 to Quad to partner with Altia, and $24,000 for Janska. The city and county each ponied up $24,500 for their project.

Eichengreen said that’s a bargain, rather than potentially paying about four times that to a marketing company for what he expects to be similar results.

Chelsea Gaylord, economic development project manager for the city, was appointed to the city-county project along with Andrew Phelps, the city’s homeless prevention and response coordinator, by city Chief of Staff Jeff Greene, who worked with County Administrator Henry Yankowski to develop the joint venture. Gaylord and Phelps attended a presentation on their project last week by the Quad students.

“We were impressed by the work the team has done in a short amount of time,” Gaylord said. “Students presented on several angles of the challenge, including various transportation price points, transportation technology integration in other communities, and data analysis from El Paso County service departments.”

El Paso County Chief Public Information Officer Dave Rose said the county administers state and federal social safety-net programs for people who are most in need of assistance.

“If the project can identify innovative solutions to either improve transportation to locations to access these services, or new technology solutions [to] improve efficiency, it will be worth it,” he said.

Eichengreen, who recently hired CC graduate Beka Adair as the Quad’s assistant director, expects the projects to provide benefits to the partners.

“We’re going to deliver solutions that work,” he said.

Eichengreen expects the Quad to be sustainable, but excess costs will be covered by the four schools.

Jan Erickson, who founded Janska in 2003, said her small clothing company “doesn’t have access to the kind of market research that can help us expand our business.” But focused study by the Quad students “provides us with tremendous brain power to address marketing and distribution challenges we have faced” with clothing lines.

Goal is to retain grads

Eichengreen likes to call the Quad a “leadership accelerator.” He wants students to learn a skill set that allows them to move into leadership or management positions quickly after graduation.

“Everybody has their own definition of leadership, and we think everybody will become their own type of leader,” he said. “We don’t want to say these are the four leadership skill categories that we’re going to give you; we’re just going to give you the opportunity to be a leader, and support you individually.”

The students are also gaining experience from working with business and civic leaders.

“We facilitate connections to local leadership and expertise as needs arise,” Eichengreen said. “These three project teams are currently working closely with relevant leadership at their respective client organizations — from senior leadership, product and marketing experts at Altia and Janska to key decision-makers at Mountain Metro, for example, for the city-county project. Past summer programs have included state senators, city council members and established business leaders in a range of sectors as mentors, guest lecturers and collaborators.”

Eichengreen said watching the students step up to embrace the work while demonstrating their potential is the Quad’s “value proposition.”

“We’re helping the students find opportunities that resonate with them and might keep them here, but will certainly help them grow,” he said. “I believe that retention is a factor of perceived opportunity and relationships. We’re connecting them with specific opportunities for impact and helping them build relationships with leaders.”

Of the 26 students on fellowships at the Quad, there are nine from AFA, six each from CC and UCCS (including the only two graduate students) and five from PPCC.

“These graduates are the next generation of talent,” Gaylord said. “By offering exposure to opportunities and other professionals in the community, the Quad helps new professionals to locate jobs here in Colorado Springs. Retaining this educated workforce is key in driving economic development.”

Juran said that he envisions Quad becoming a true “partner” with the local business community, and not simply a supplier of talent.

“Recruiting, hiring and keeping young, educated talent in Colorado Springs is critical to our well-being and success as a city,” he said. “The Quad program is crucial to this process.”

Gaylord said the collaboration between the Quad and the four schools is benefiting the students, local businesses and the community.

“The Quad provides students with real-world problems, personal and professional development opportunities, and introduction to the ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ — how to creatively solve problems that can lead to action and meaningful impact,” Gaylord said. “While it’s still early, the Quad has the potential to inspire other institutions to reimagine higher education and is working to create a pipeline of talent into our community.

“When recent graduates pursue careers in the Pikes Peak region, we increase our number of startups and small businesses, create a thriving pool of talent that attracts other businesses, and continues to put Colorado Springs on the map for being an innovative community with a high quality of living.”