Thursday August 22, 2013 0 comments
By Steve Porter
COLORADO SPRINGS - For fourth-generation Californian Dr. Ric Denton, an early career spent working with tech companies in the Golden State's Silicon Valley was a natural starting place.
But Denton, now CEO and president of the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator, saw the need to switch states when he perceived tough times ahead for California but better days in store for Colorado.
"Silicon Valley remains an incredibly interesting place where there are a lot of things happening," he said. "But what brought me to Colorado was a government crash in California and just being attracted to Colorado."
Denton is the third CEO for the Colorado Springs startup incubator since its creation in 1999.
For the past two-plus years, Denton's headed CSTI, helping steer its direction and guide its growing momentum with a team of talented professionals and an 11-member board of directors.
Denton said he's proud of CSTI's accomplishments over the last few years but acknowledges there are still more hurdles to overcome.
Attracting more companies to CSTI is one of those challenges.
"At any one time we probably have seven or eight companies," he said. "We'd like to have double or triple that, but we're pretty careful to choose companies that have the criteria we're looking for."
For one thing, CSTI is not looking for "Mom-and-Pop" companies, Denton said, but instead is seeking to help "high-growth, scalable companies" that the incubator can help move to commercialization and provide high quality jobs for the community.
And that leaves a lot of room for discretion, he noted.
"Ultimately, we're an equal opportunity incubator," he said. "Any business that comes along with a viable business model and is scalable, we'll take a look at it."
CSTI offers its client companies a variety of services, including affordable office space, business planning, marketing, product development and executive mentoring.
CSTI works with an extensive network of business partners, professional service providers, investors, academic and government resources dedicated to helping entrepreneurs transition from early-stage ventures to successful high-growth businesses.
"We have our Rolodex of local mentors who provide that," Denton said.
Angel network helping
Another service CSTI provides is access to venture capital through the High Altitude Investors angel network based in Colorado Springs and created in 2008.
Denton credits HAI with giving CSTI a needed injection of financial momentum.
"I think it's been very important," he said of the investor group. "If you don't have a means to get risk capital, where are you going to be?"
But Denton admits obtaining venture capital in the Springs is not easy.
"It's always a challenge," he said. "Colorado Springs has a lot of wealth and old money, but not much of it has come from entrepreneurial endeavors."
Clients of CSTI can either have an office in the incubator or be set up elsewhere. For those who do want space in the 22,000-square-foot facility on the city's south side, there is no limit on how long they may stay.
"It really depends on the (technology) sector they're in," he said, noting it can take much longer for a bioscience company to make it to commercialization than a software company.
"You can't really predict," he said.
Throughout the year, CSTI hosts and helps sponsor a variety of workshops, pitch events, business breakfasts and investor forums.
And it gets support from the community, including the Business Alliance, an organization created recently when the Colorado Springs Chamber and local economic development organization merged.
With its high-visibility Air Force connection, CSTI might be considered well-placed for startup aerospace companies. Denton said that's true, but it's an area that still needs attention.
"The qualifier I would have is we do have operational commands here like NORAD, but not deep R&D," he said. "If we had more R&D we might have that advantage. I just think we need to do a better job."
A 501c3 nonprofit organization, CSTI gets its funding from a variety of supporting organizations and sources.
Denton said about half comes from public sources - the city, county and utilities - and "a little" comes from local philanthropic groups and individuals. The remainder comes from the incubator's clients and tenants, he said.
Denton said he's working to build a stronger relationship with the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and others to get behind CSTI and have a shared vision for its future.
"I would love to see Colorado Springs have a vision where we collectively want to work together, where all the organizations in town get together and make it happen.
"Frankly, we're not quite there yet. But I see that day coming."
For more information, visit www.cstionline.org.