Alliances, partnerships, collaboration.
Organizers of the first leadership forum of the Rocky Mountain Technology Alliance believe those are the keys to improving the technology business environment in Colorado Springs, and the corridor of the Rocky Mountains from Albuquerque to Fort Collins.
“We need to look beyond our borders,” said Mike Semmens, principal and co-founder of Imprimis Inc. and executive director of the RMTA. “The economy of Colorado Springs is not really that diverse and we need that diversity. Our strategy is to grow companies here, and then keep them here.”
The group has membership committees in Albuquerque, Fort Collins, Denver and Colorado Springs. Their goal is to foster economic growth in the Rocky Mountain region, and entice venture capital firms to invest in Colorado Springs, thanks to partnerships with national laboratories in New Mexico.
The group has its genesis during a Celebrate Technology meeting two years ago, and is finalizing plans for the leadership forum next month. Participants from education, business, industry and economic development will speak at the forum, said Donna Lovelace, owner of The Art of Business, a local consulting firm.
“If you look at the studies, the impact of technology on a communities’ economic development is unmistakable. We want these three components — converge, collaborate and connect — to foster growth in our community,” she said. “And we think this conference is going to be the best start.”
The conference is scheduled for Nov. 9, and the day starts with keynote addresses from industry leaders, including manufacturing and semiconductor development.
“We’re asking for thought leaders,” Lovelace said. “The people who can make a difference, and we’re partnering with the university (of Colorado at Colorado Springs) and CITTI (Colorado Institute for Technology Transfer and Implementation) to make sure we can create the businesses here, and keep them here.”
Lovelace and Semmens said that many businesses are started with the goal of being “acquired.” Once someone buys the business, it frequently leaves Colorado Springs for the East or West coasts.
“We want to keep them here,” she said. “So we want to develop these partnerships — with the national labs, for instance — to encourage them to stay here.”
Semmens acknowledged that his plan has been criticized. In development for two years, the forum will be the first public attempt to gather information and create networking and venture capital opportunities.
“Some people ask me why we are including all these cities that we compete with for businesses, for jobs,” he said. “But if we collaborate we’ll all be able to be successful. Remember, we aren’t only competing with cities in the United States, we’re competing globally. We’re trying to develop the leadership with this forum; we’re going to mix together those leaders with venture capitalist to catalyze the technology habitat in Colorado.”
Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., believes that the collaboration will be good for both cities.
“I think we can still compete with Albuquerque by working collectively,” he said. “We have a greater chance of building a synergy for the entire region to be more attractive, and that way we both benefit overall.”
It isn’t just about venture capital, though. Linda Christopherson, another organizer of the daylong event and an RMTA board member, said it’s about finding different ways to do business.
“We need to try different things,” she said. “If we put our resources together, they’re phenomenal. We have UCCS on board; we have the EDC on board; we have CITTI on board. We want each group to continue doing what they’re doing — because they are doing some fabulous things — but we need an umbrella organization. We want to catch the ideas that are bubbling up, and put them to good use.”
The forum will put RMTA “on the map,” Semmens said. The event will include an opportunity for local technology businesses to present their ideas for technology development to venture capitalists.
“There are always a few people who take a wait and see attitude,” he said. “But I say why not take advantage of the success in other places? It’s a business idea: you compete head on with some projects, then the next project, you work together. It gives us an advantage.”
Jeremy Haefner, dean of the College of Engineering at the UCCS, said the forum is a step in the right direction. He praised the RMTA for the depth and breadth of the conference.
“They have some big names coming,” he said. “It’s going to help put Colorado Springs on the technology map. We’ve got some tremendous assets in the Colorado Springs region, and this is going to have a great impact on the region. It’s a wonderful thing they’re doing.”
Apparently, other cities are catching on. Albuquerque’s economic development director, Fred Mondragon, is one of the speakers at the conference — and in the past, the city has been one of Colorado Springs’ top competitors for business opportunities.
But, Semmens said, Mondragon is on board with the RMTA.
“He loves it,” he said. “I think he understands that everyone can benefit from collaborations like this.”
The technology forum will focus on one of Colorado Springs’ strengths: homeland security and the defense industry.
“Most of our new businesses, our new jobs, come from the defense industry,” Semmens said. “And that’s an important sector. It’s about technology, too. We don’t want to leave them out, but we need to diversify our economy to include other sectors, too.”
Haefner said that the forum will give RMTA “legitimacy.”
“It’s a robust workshop,” he said. “What they are trying to do is going to bring real value to the community.”
Semmens refers to the technology economy as a “habitat,” one that needs to be fostered if Colorado Springs is going to succeed in the field.
“We’ve always been a high-tech city,” he said, citing Intel, Agilent and other technology companies that have offices in the city. “But it’s never really been advertised as that. The EDC is just now starting to place an emphasis on growing our own businesses — and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”