UCCS, El Pomar set out on epic business adventures

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UCCS professor Tom Duening stood before a crowd of about 100 business leaders this week for the annual El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization report to the community.

Duening, the El Pomar Endowed Chair of Business and Entrepreneurship, said he was surprised that so many people were interested in his work.

He shouldn’t be.

Around town, at every networking group, at every business breakfast and entrepreneurial meeting, people are talking about what’s going on at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. There is a real excitement about UCCS and its growing connection to the business community. There also is a sense that UCCS’s epic adventure to contribute to the region’s economic development is more than talk — that if UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak and the UCCS administration say UCCS will build, will innovate, will help create small businesses, it will.

It already is.

Terry Boult, El Pomar Endowed Chair of Innovation and Security, is developing an advanced descriptive biometrics program that could assist military and police in searches for missing children or suspects on the lam.

Michael Larson, El Pomar Chair of Engineering and Innovation, just received a patent on a laser tissue fusion medical device he hopes to shop to manufacturers. He’s also working with about 15 local inventors and entrepreneurs in the UCCS Mind Studio to design and prototype their products and get them to market.

Duening just co-wrote a book advancing the “entrepreneurial method,” which outlines the skills and practice needed to become an expert entrepreneur. In October he will head up the second national sports/outdoors business plan competition at UCCS — designed around the belief that Colorado Springs has the goods to become a sports and outdoor business hub.

“That is how we structure everything we do: We want to have an impact on economic development of our area,” Duening said. “I’m convinced, deep down, that Colorado Springs could be the mecca for new venture and outdoor startups. We have all the ingredients required.”

The message the three EPIIC chairs delivered is clear: UCCS is on the verge of busting wide open an entrepreneurial scene of new businesses, new patents and research and new beginnings with the business community. As they stood at the podium, all three high-energy with bursting-at-the-seams delivery, they described their mission as one that forges an alliance among high-tech companies, entrepreneurs and community leaders and contributes to the region’s economic development. They will translate research into real products.

That’s what the El Pomar Foundation had in mind when it invested in UCCS, said Kyle Hybl, El Pomar senior vice president and general counsel and trustee, as well as a University of Colorado regent.

His father, El Pomar Chairman/CEO Bill Hybl, was among the foundation’s trustees, he said, who looked out on the horizon and said, “We need to help Colorado Springs with new ideas and the creation of small businesses to help move things along.”

Each year, the CU technology transfer office assists faculty with commercialization of university technology and spins out about 10 new companies, mostly in Boulder.

“We want to make it so Colorado Springs is making nine of those 10,” Kyle Hybl said.

UCCS was born in 1965 when David Packard of Hewlett-Packard wanted a university campus in the Springs where his employees, particularly engineers, could be trained. UCCS has kept that tradition of working closely with the business community, said Venkat Reddy, UCCS dean of the College of Business and Administration.

“UCCS is a campus about action,” he said. “We make things happen.”

No entity has been more important to UCCS than El Pomar Foundation, Shockley-Zalabak said. From early on, when UCCS was still considered a commuter campus, El Pomar believed in its future, she said. Its grant endowed the three chairs in the colleges of business and engineering so that they could help stimulate the region’s economic growth.

“We are emerging,” Larson said. “What’s a little different about us, we are not losing sight of the role we play in the region — we always have it on our mind how research will benefit the local area.”

Business leaders will want to keep their eye on UCCS in the next 10 years. And when its EPIIC chairs get up to a podium, they will want to listen.