Technology incubator graduates crane inspection company

Eric Skinner, president and CEO of SpectWare is ready for his business to move out of the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator.

The Colorado Springs Technology Incubator has graduated its eighth business, a crane inspection management software company.

SpectWare is leaving the CSTI fold, said Ric Denton, CSTI president and CEO.

“At some point, it’s just like sending a kid off to college – we think they’ve got what it takes to make it out there in the big world,” Denton said.

CSTI started 11 years ago as a place where fledgling companies are nurtured with mentors until a business is ready to move out on its own.

SpectWare owners Eric and Tabitha Skinner will operate under a virtual business model while they search for office space, Eric Skinner said.

The couple launched the business in 2009 when they created crane inspection management software, SpectWare Pro. The software is designed to prevent deadly crane injuries in major construction projects.  Last year, the company moved into the incubator, becoming the first company that did not give royalties to the incubator as previous start-ups had, Skinner said. Instead, SpectWare paid a one-time fee and rent on its office space.  Skinner was one of only a handful of companies to decline to give a 3 to 5 percent share of the company, under a business model introduced last year.

“CSTI helped us turn an idea into a business,” Skinner said. “They helped us get our planning done so we could move on.”

SpectWare debuted its software in March to 120,000 leading experts in the crane and rigging industry at the ConExpo show in Las Vegas, Nev. They’ve been taking orders since. The program is now used by companies in 35 states and 14 countries, Skinner said.

The company’s success was born out of a tragedy.

Skinner was a crane mechanic for 24 years. In 2006, one of his coworkers was killed when a crane flipped on him at an accident on Interstate 25 and Nevada Avenue. At first, Skinner launched a crane inspection company, Front Range Crane Safety. However, he soon realized that one of the major issues was the amount of time spent on paperwork. So he created a software program that gives a real-time electronic overview of the entire  inspection process, including tracking crane inspections and operators’ certification and qualifications.

SpectWare sells its product for $499 for a one-year subscription which is designed for crane owners to track their own daily, monthly and annual inspections. The company will  break even next year and early projections for revenue were $18 million within in five years. New features including inspections on Ariel cranes and maritime cranes could increase profits, Skinner said.

The company has attracted the eye of investor Jan Horsfall, SpectWare board member who owns Gelazzi gelato Italiano cafes and whohas a long career in consumer branding and marketing. Horsfall has said SpectWare has the opportunity to be the breakout hit from Colorado Springs.

“We still have a long way to go,” Skinner said. “We just keep basically looking forward and keep moving.”

Meanwhile, the incubator is fielding inquiries from possible start-ups and new tenants every day, Denton said. The incubator uses a mix of government grants, private venture capital and angel investments to help fund the start-ups. The city of Colorado Springs gives the group $50,000 a year.

There are seven start-ups in the incubator now, Denton said.

“The ideal number for us would be closer to double that,” he said. “We are always looking for the right companies.”

The incubator provides mentors to its clients, giving them advice on business plans and help finding investors. Denton said in the coming year, he wants the incubator to solidify its process. He wants to create a more formal process, or checklist, that mentors and businesses can check to ensure the start-up has gone through the necessary steps for success, including developing a solid marketing and sales plan.

“We need to transition to more of a set of processes that we walk them through,” Denton said.