When Natasha Main stepped up as executive director at Peak Startup in June last year, she also took a “step back.”
“For Peak Startup, we took a step back when I was hired — in a really great way — to reassess and speak with the community … looking to co-develop what it is that we want to see from the Colorado Springs startup ecosystem with startup founders, with decision makers, with community makers,” she said. “We’ve really taken time to set a strong vision for what the startup ecosystem can look like and what Peak Startup will do.”
Peak Startup is dedicated to driving economic development by bolstering the startup community — supporting connections and resources for founders and entrepreneurs in Colorado Springs. In her first year with the nonprofit, Main has developed a new strategic plan to secure the organization’s long-term impact and sustainability.
“Now is such an important time both for our city and for our startup ecosystem because startup businesses generate … the majority of the net new jobs in a community,” Main said. “So those are jobs and dollars that have never existed in a community or an economy before — they kind of spread out from nowhere when one of these companies becomes successful.
“Why that’s so important right now is we’re growing, we’re attracting so many Millennials, we have such great talent. It’s partly about retention and keeping that talent here — providing new and dynamic jobs — and it’s also about that economic resiliency too.”
This year, Main says, Peak Startup will focus on growing the base and becoming “a more inclusive community, either through partnerships with other organizations or on our own.
“Our vision is to provide on-ramps for people who may not be connected to the startup community already, to participate — increasing that inclusivity and accessibility,” she said.
Main grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and moved to Memphis, Tenn. to attend Rhodes College as a Bonner Scholar. It was there she developed a passion for economic development and community engagement, and bringing those together.
Already, Main sees positive changes in Colorado Springs’ startup landscape.
“We are seeing some bigger wins this past year with the biggest number of external investments,” she said. “We’re also seeing more companies come through Peak Startup that are interested in building their businesses. So we’re starting to see this critical mass starting to come about, that is an indicator of our first wave of success with startup businesses. … Our community is really growing and it’s understanding that a diverse set of entrepreneurs is important, and looking to be more inclusive and collaborative.”
Main aims to attract innovators and make entrepreneurship “a really valid opportunity” for people living in the Springs.
“That’s really what I care deeply about,” she said. “I believe that if you have an idea — regardless of your background — if you have the chutzpah to get it done, you should be able to connect to the resources to make that an economic reality.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
“Don’t treat youth as a disadvantage. I have grown to see youth as a lot of positive qualities that can immediately be a contribution to society and engagement.”