Tech Incubator to grow beyond new locale (7417)

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Colorado Springs Technology Incubator President Gary Markle has experienced what he hopes many of the incubator’s newly hatched business startups eventually realize: growth and the need to move into a larger space.

On July 7, the incubator moved to University Office Park at 1867 Austin Bluffs, occupying, along with six incubator protégés, 4,000 of the building’s total 8,000 square feet.

The burgeoning businesses under the incubator’s advisement are leasing space at $9 a square foot. Included in residence at the incubator’s new space are ZeeWAVES Systems, manufacturers of high-performance antennas for wireless networks; Sustainable Energy Applications, LLC, producers of energy technology that uses farm animal waste; and DigiLearn, which provides online continuing legal education.

Markle said the recently adopted incubator model requiring resident businesses to pay rent allows the companies to remain at the location indefinitely. “The businesses can now stay as long as they want,” Markle said. “What necessitates them to move out is outgrowing their space. And the fee-based leasing program grants the business owner a truer picture of the economic environment.”

The incubator space can accommodate about 12 companies, and Markle said there is room for six more entrepreneurial ventures. Business owners can lease a single office or a couple of offices, based on need.

Although the move doubled the incubator’s space, Markle’s true picture of the future involves a much bigger canvas.

Markle is in hot pursuit of a 25,000 to 30,000 square-foot building that would be a central location for organizations and businesses that specialize in assisting business startups. His plan revolves around a physical collaboration – tentatively named the Alliance for Economic Advancement – that includes the incubator, the early stage companies and a myriad of businesses and organizations, from lawyers and public relations firms to venture capitalists.

Markle said he believes that bringing business mentors, investors and planners under one roof would not only provide a convenience for new and potential business owners but also strengthen the business community and enhance the city’s business image. Anyone interested in learning about how to start or grow a business could get all of his or her needs met at one location.

“Everyone we have talked with whom we’ve determined to be a stakeholder in this plan is enthusiastic,” Markle said. “They all want to determine some part they can play; some have said their presence would be limited initially, but no one has said no.” Markle states in his business plan that communities leveraging resources through collaborations and one-stop shopping centers have optimized the process for business owners, and advanced the company’s move toward self-sufficiency.

Alongside public relations firms, investment firms and lawyers, Markle envisions shared space with organizations like the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives).

Ron Schutz, Springs SCORE chairman, said Markle’s idea is worth pursuing. Schutz said the “one caveat” to this type of change for SCORE is its relationship with the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, which provides office space to SCORE at no cost. “The chamber as our host has been beneficial, and I think we complement each other,” he said. “Our yearly budget is $4,200, and rent is free,” Schutz said. “But I wouldn’t turn down looking at this as long as it is recognized that our resources do not allow us to help with funding.”

SCORE offers plentiful information and advice to business owners and potential business owners through its personal and e-mail counseling services and ongoing workshops. Schutz said attendance at the workshops is growing. He said there are usually 20 to 25 people at each session, and the information presented weeds out the not-so-serious business owners.

SCORE’s alliance with the incubator program and presence at a central location could extend its reach to others (SCORE also works with developing companies). “There is a good case for Markle’s idea – how they fund it is another question,” Schutz said.

Markle’s potential revenue sources include federal, state and city funding and office leases. A couple of weeks ago, the incubator received a $190,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Markle said a portion of the grant will be used to fund a feasibility study for the new alliance center, and Markle is hiring a consulting firm to evaluate the community’s interest.

Markle also researched national programs involving technology venture companies and incubation networks.

Technology Ventures Corp., a nonprofit 501 c (3) corporation in Albuquerque, N.M., was founded to help commercialize developing technology for national security purposes. Technology Ventures, which is funded by Lockheed Martin, also has locations in Las Vegas, Nev., and Livermore, Calif.

Randy Wilson is the director of business operations for Technology Ventures in Albuquerque, and he said the corporation has two main focuses: coaching and mentoring technology companies, especially in the area of marketing; and finding equity investors for startup and developing companies. Investors who are looking for technology based opportunities are impressed with the business plan of a company that has been fostered by Technology Ventures, Wilson said.

Eight venture capital firms share office space with Technology Ventures along with the client companies that are under the corporation’s guidance. Technology Ventures provides office space to the client companies at no cost. “Some of our client companies just needed to get out of the garage and out of the bathrobe,” Wilson said.

Two years ago, Technology Ventures added another program, a collaboration of 11 institutions, including the Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico and the MIND Institute. Charley Whitehurst is the director of The Technology Research Corridor Collaboration. He said the advantage to a technological collaborative effort is the “bundling of technology and intellectual property.”

Whitehurst said the collaboration with Technology Ventures involves plans for five medical research and diagnostic centers. Once the centers are built, investors are brought in to “take it to commercialization,” he said. “Twenty years ago, the state of New Mexico invested $32 million in this same type of program, and received a return of $300 million. The new collaboration is a grand experiment, but it is working very well.”

The idea for the Alliance for Economic Advancement is based on Markle’s desire to bring together entrepreneurs – seed and early stage companies, support organizations and firms, and investors – to ensure the sprouting companies receive all the attention and assistance needed to enhance the Springs’ economic climate.

According to Markle’s business plan, incubators that become a part of a larger alliance center can impact an entire community. Markle said the community could provide more value to organic companies through a connected consortium as opposed to the existing “disbursed model.”

- Marylou.Doehrman@csbj.com