Rocky Mountain Innosphere building innovation ecosystem

By: Steve Tuesday May 29, 2012 Tags: City of Loveland, CSU Ventures, Innosphere, Josh Birks, Mike Freeman, RMI

Mike Freeman

Leveraging assets, accessing capital are next steps

By Steve Porter

FORT COLLINS - Mike Freeman believes 2012 will be a breakout year for the Rocky Mountain Innosphere and the growing number of innovative companies in Northern Colorado.

"Twenty-twelve is going to be a big year for us - a breakout year - because we're getting our act together," said Freeman, CEO of RMI, a Fort Collins-based incubator for innovation-based startup companies in the region.

Freeman, who became CEO in March, said this year RMI is set to take a giant step forward in helping innovators with great ideas and not much money to bridge that gap between the laboratory and the marketplace.

That means organizing an "innovation ecosystem" in which those with marketable ideas and products can flourish and create jobs that pump up the area's economy.

"Basically, the idea is we have all these innovation assets that weren't being coordinated very well," Freeman said. "My job is to take this organization to the next evolution."

Freeman notes Northern Colorado has already built up an impressive number of innovation assets beyond RMI, including two other local incubators, Colorado State University and a number of research "clusters" that aim to help commercialize breakthroughs in clean energy, clean water, bioscience and other fields of innovation.

Freeman said that's where RMI can make a real difference. "We're sitting at the hub of all this and trying to drive all this activity," he said.

RMI's funding partners include Colorado State University, the city of Loveland, CSU Ventures, the Colorado Bioscience Association and the city of Fort Collins. Josh Birks, Fort Collins' economic health director, said creating an innovation ecosystem is more than just connecting the dots between the innovation assets already in place.

Josh Birks City of Fort Collins
"We're trying to nurture that habitat and make it into a more complete ecosystem," he said. "We have an excellent land-grant institution in CSU that produces $300 million in research annually. We've got all these raw ingredients of an ecosystem and we're trying to give it the fertilizer to make it grow stronger."

Birks said while "having a solid incubator" in RMI is extremely important, it takes more than that. "I think the cooperation that's emerging between RMI and CSU Ventures is a perfect example" of providing some of that additional innovation fertilizer, he said.

CSU Ventures manages the technology transfer operations at CSU, including "supercluster" research in cancer, infectious diseases and clean energy.

Recently, RMI hired Doug Johnson, an investment specialist plugged into the local community, to help raise funds for RMI's clients. Birks said there are two "gaps" that startup entrepreneurs face: an execution gap and a capital gap.  The execution gap is being targeted through such efforts as onsite mentors and advisers, Birks said, and the capital gap is next.

"Now with Mike (Freeman) moving to RMI and Doug (Johnson) coming on, we're addressing the capital gap," he said.

The 30,000-square-foot Innosphere is currently completely full with a waiting list. Companies include everything from a maker of a device that captures vehicle crash data to cutting-edge bioscience research.

Freeman said the incubator is helping drive the local economy with client companies raising millions in investor funding and providing good-paying jobs.

"What it's all about for us is impact," he said. "We've picked up nine more companies this year, some really exciting companies. Our job is to help them create those great jobs and make this a great region."

Update: Please also see breaking news:

First National Bank announces $150,000 RMI investment

About the Author: Steve