Monday April 15, 2013 0 comments
By Steve Porter
FORT COLLINS - Northern Colorado has made significant progress in incubating innovative entrepreneurs and developing collaborative partnerships, but the region still has not reached a level of investment attraction that could put it on similar footing with hotspots like Silicon Valley or even Denver-Boulder.
That was one of the messages delivered by panelists at the CSU Ventures 2013 Innovation Symposium held Friday at Rocky Mountain Innosphere.
Mike Freeman, RMI's CEO, said the region is becoming a fountain of technology startup activity with 36 client companies attached to RMI alone.
"There's a huge number of potential startups, not including those coming out of CSU or the community, that aren't even on the radar," he said.
But Freeman noted that access to investment capital remains a major hurdle for Northern Colorado startups, and RMI has taken several steps to expand access to a variety of funding sources, including establishing a local angel investor group and an early-stage debt fund.
"The big thing we're putting in place now is a venture fund capitalized by banks, the first in Colorado," he said.
Freeman was joined on the panel by Todd Headley, CSU Ventures president; Amy Prieto, CSU chemistry professor and founder of Prieto Battery; Melissa Reynolds, chemistry professor and founder of Diazamed; and Greg Graff, agricultural and resource economics professor.
Panelists discussed the challenges facing entrepreneurs in taking their ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace.
Money is one of the challenges, but another is finding a way for CSU faculty to hand off technology to someone who can drive the business to financial success, said Headley.
"One of the things we found over the last few years is we need to help faculty members find business drivers to work with them, to run the business so they can focus on the technical aspects," he said.
Reynolds said turning over that business role to others was freeing for her. "I'm no longer the CEO and I'm really happy about it," she said. "The support system that CSU Ventures provided was very key to that."
Prieto said she's not been able to find that with her incipient business. "I have not found that (driver) and it's been really very painful," she said. "Figuring out a way to groom really good people is really important."
Graff said while Northern Colorado may be perceived by the outside investment world as somewhat invisible, it shouldn't be.
"When you expand (Northern Colorado) to Denver, we're a region of 3 million people," he said. "I feel passionately that we have great resources in the university. We live in a knowledge economy, and we need to own up to it."
Headley said the region is working more collaboratively than ever. "We are working better together, but we know we have a number of shortcomings, whether it's money or talent," he said. "But I know we're making progress and what we're doing is working."
About 100 people attended the symposium hosted by CSU Ventures, which manages tech transfer for the university.
In addition to the panel, Ken Reardon, CSU mechanical engineering professor, talked about some of the lessons he learned while taking his groundwater biosensor technology from an idea to the creation of OptiEnz Sensors, now an RMI incubator company.
Colorado State University students also had a chance to spotlight their research at the symposium, with 27 posters displayed detailing some of the most innovative and cutting-edge work going on in classrooms and laboratories across campus.