Celebrate Technology: Infrastructure Builder

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Editor’s note: Celebrate Technology’s Infrastructure Builder Award recognizes coverage area companies that have made significant contributions to building and supporting the coverage area technology community during the past year. Four companies were selected to receive the 2004 award.

AeA’s Mountain States Council

Greg Jenik is working to build a technology community.

As executive director of the AeA’s Mountain States Council, his varied duties revolve around local members of the AeA, the oldest and largest high-tech trade association in the country.

His job? Thinking about the issues that CEOs and middle management simply don’t have time to. “As you’re running or working in a company, your head’s down and you’re doing what you have to do,” Jenik said. “We give high-tech companies a voice in government at the local, state, national and international levels.”

Jenik said the AeA helps tech-oriented businesses grow together and do business together, creates cost-saving benefits for members to help the companies’ bottom line, and keeps on top of related public policy measures.

As Ramtron International President Greg Jones said to Jenik, “You watch my back when I don’t have time to.”

Formed more than six decades ago by David Packard of Hewlett Packard fame, the American Electronics Association today has 4,000 member companies and offices in the United States, Brussels and Beijing.

“The people I respect the most are those U.S. companies and people who are taking risks, trying to do the right things, building their ideas into companies and building communities in which they live,” Jenik said. “Small businessmen and women are putting themselves at risk to make their ideas a reality.”

Jenik, 41, lives in Denver and works in Broomfield.

The Colorado native earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and master’s degree in international management from “Thunderbird”-the American Graduate School of International Management. He is married to Jane, and they are expecting twin sons in December.

The Colorado Springs Technology Incubator

Gary Markle wasn’t sure as a young man what he wanted to do as a vocation.

He drifted to and from universities in Colorado and Ohio, completing his undergraduate work at Tiffin University, where he almost, but didn’t quite complete his MBA.

Turns out, his calling was starting companies.

After building three software companies to a significant size, he sold each of them privately to a publicly traded company.

Now he helps other entrepreneurs.

The Colorado Springs Technology Incubator, founded by several community leaders, is headed by Markle and is focused on helping “seed-stage” companies with developing business models and business plans.

The Incubator is the only organization in El Paso County that provides a physical plant-kind of “a greenhouse or hothouse”-an environment where local entrepreneurs can physically reside and receive strong mentorship.

“The whole process of taking someone who wants to start a business and giving them the space to start that business is completely unique,” Markle said. “We’re the people who provide them a place to grow in, and all the proper supporting structure necessary for that growth.”

More than 100 volunteer mentors are registered with the Incubator, and there are seven companies working there: ZeeWaves Systems Inc., DigiLearn Systems Inc., Open Tag Systems, SEA, Internet Business Skills Inc., Larkspur Learning Systems-and Xaware Inc. just “graduated.”

“My affinity is for the entrepreneurs who believe they’ve got an idea the world can’t live without, and who will do anything it takes to realize that vision,” Markle said. “These people, who have attitude, energy and enthusiasm, are right up my alley. It’s who I was.”

Markle, 51, is married with three grown children and one grandchild.

The Technology Startup Board

It’s all about personal relationships for Shaun McNerney.

But despite being chairman of the Technology Startup Board and CEO/co-founder of software company Black White Box, McNerney said he’s not unique.

“It’s nothing special that I’m doing,” he said. “I guess maybe it’s that I’m taking some time out to talk to people, maybe that’s the difference.”

Maybe it is.

The TS Board focuses not only on senior level executives and founders of local technology companies, but also on peripheral careers-other companies required to make high-tech companies successful-such as lawyers, bankers and venture capitalists.

First McNerney brings together seemingly dissimilar people-perhaps one is a kid with a brilliant idea working in his basement, the other might be a top-tier executive with Intel or Hewlett Packard-to form a personal relationship. Then he gets out of the way.

The young kid may not know very much about business, but he knows his subject matter very well. On the other hand, the high-level executive probably knows all about legal agreements and strategic alliances, but may not be up to date on the next new thing.

“We try to bring everybody together and have them get to know each other. Hopefully those meetings will turn into professional relationships, and both can benefit,” McNerney said. “We’re trying to encourage opportunities locally, so people don’t have to go looking elsewhere.”

So the focus is on building interpersonal networks and connecting the dots. The TS Board meets once a quarter.

McNerney, 45, earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from San Jose State University, and a master’s degree in engineering from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. He is married to Janet and has one son, Cameron, 14.

Peak Venture Group

The difference between Peak Venture Group and other networking organizations is that the nonprofit Peak Venture is “open to everyone,” said President Jim Wittenburg.

“There’s similar organizations in other parts of the country. But the uniqueness in our particular area is that there are no accreditation levels you need to belong,” he said. “The young entrepreneur who’s never done it before has easy access to the expertise and experience of others.”

Wittenburg started his career with large corporations, then cut his teeth on his first startup company in 1985-a software development firm by the name of IMRALT. After selling that company, startups were in his blood.

He has been providing management and infrastructure development, as well as finance marketing, to companies for the last 15 years, often taking interim management positions. Currently Wittenburg is president of JRW Associates, a consulting firm targeted toward high-tech companies.

“I volunteer to [Peak Venture] as president, but at the same time I’m operating with early-stage high-tech companies predominately, doing investment structuring and land development.”

Peak Venture Group, he said, provides a forum for investors to meet with entrepreneurs. Bimonthly meetings include presentations by members and well-known speakers at the Wyndham Hotel. Peak Venture was founded in 2000 by a committee of about a dozen members, who saw the need for high-tech entrepreneurial encouragement in Colorado Springs.

“I enjoy contributing back to the community, in exchange for what I’ve received in the past,” he said.

Wittenburg is from Los Angeles and graduated from UCLA. He and his wife, Judy, have lived in Colorado Springs for eight years and have three grown daughters.

By Jennifer Knight, contributing writer