Denton bringing business wisdom to tech incubator

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Ric Denton has worn several hats during his career: international physics professor, company owner and business consultant.

When he moved to Colorado Springs in 2004, he decided against a full time job and instead started working at the Service Corps of Retired Executives, or SCORE.

Now, Denton has come out of retirement to help new entrepreneurs as the latest executive director of the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator. He starts his new job April 1.

Why did you decide to take the position with the incubator?

I guess I’m restless. I’m doing a lot of various things I enjoy. I continue to volunteer with SCORE. I’ve been volunteering with High Altitude Investors, which is administratively housed at the incubator. I know the people, and it gives me the opportunity to do something I enjoy — help young entrepreneurs succeed.

When Duncan Stewart (former executive director) approached me, it just seemed like a good fit. I’d been getting more and more involved.

What are your plans for the incubator?

There’s already a blueprint laid out in terms of where it’s going, and it’s a plan I buy into completely. The plans are to go beyond a mere incubator to an innovation center, to attract more than just tech companies. For me, the challenge is the same as it is with all businesses, execution.

We don’t need new ideas, or a new scheme. There’s a full plate already there. We need to keep working on the plans that are already in progress and making sure our relationships with the community and with investors remain solid.

What are the challenges to starting a business right now?

There’s a great deal of debate about when to start a business. I always say, there’s no time like the present. Sometimes the best time is in a down economy, because you learn to work on a lean and mean basis.

But the biggest challenge: All companies have a full plate of things to do, and a limited staff, limited resources. Time is always the scarcest commodity.

Even at the incubator, there are lots of moving parts. We have to expand the programs, find new clients, and make sure they are teachable. Help the existing clients and work on the relationship with the community, especially for fundraising. I imagine I’ll be balancing a lot — that’s the experience I expect to have.

In the past, few businesses have graduated from the incubator. How will you change that?

We’re dealing with small numbers here. Right now, we have eight clients. In the past, we had six or eight. There are going to always be some home-runs, and some failures. We’re going to have dry spots where no company leaves. There’s no way to predict what the success will be.

Right now, we’ve had two companies leave the incubator: New Planet and Combat Training Solutions. Both are great success stories and both are supported by community investment.

It’s just varied in nature. I do some consulting for venture capital firms, and they deal with companies a step higher than the incubator. Their success rate is about the same: maybe one in 20 is successful.

The fact that the incubator is bound to hit some dry spells doesn’t bother me.

Is there a way to tell which companies are going to be successful?

The final outcome is hard to tell, but you can stack the deck in your favor. You can have a significant planning process, figure out the “gotchas” ahead of time. Figure out things like the capital you will need so you won’t be short-footed.

But there are other things, like passion. You really need to know this is what you want to do. Passion makes you tenacious. And if you aren’t tenacious, then you might quit at the first bad news. You need passion and tenacity in order to stay in business.

That said, if you don’t appreciate the value of luck, you’re fooling yourself. The best planning isn’t going to necessarily make you successful — there’s a measure of luck there.

And every successful entrepreneur knows if the plan isn’t working, then change it. You can’t be stuck in the original plan.