UCCS goes boldly into entrepreneurial future

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The University of Colorado Colorado Springs is embarking on a new venture that could be the start of an entrepreneurial renaissance like no other in the region.

UCCS has joined private citizens to create a nonprofit organization, the UCCS Development Corp., to launch startup firms, participate in public-private business ventures and attract investors.

The newly formed corporation also plays into a growing movement of venture philanthropy — that is, people who want to invest in the university and not just give.

It’s all new ground, says Charlie Sweet, UCCS executive director of strategic planning and initiatives.

To tell the truth, he said, he’s not exactly sure how this new venture will play out. But UCCS leaders believe that they have to be ready when opportunity knocks.

“As we look at developing new relationships with business, we need to expand the capabilities to engage in those relations,” Sweet said.

Until recent years, universities have relied nearly entirely on the federal government to fund their research.

But times have changed.

The government has tightened its research spending, and universities now are looking to private industry for research and development partnerships.

The trouble, Sweet said, is that UCCS is subject to limitations on joint ventures.

It couldn’t, for example, hold equity in a firm — even if its professors developed the product or provided the research for the company.

And it couldn’t accept investors into its products or research.

“It is very difficult to take advantage of opportunities,” Sweet said about the current way of partnering with business.

But a private nonprofit organization could escape those limitations and allow the university to be part of a profitable business venture.

Last August, Doug Quimby, owner and CEO of La Plata Communities, Inc., who also headed up the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance through the end of 2012, filed the paperwork to create the UCCS Development Corp.

The majority of the corporation’s board will be private citizens with a minority of the board being UCCS staff.

The corporation will have an operating agreement with UCCS, Sweet said.

“It could create a startup company to support technology, or a limited partnership to develop a private-public partnership — it’s a tool to take advantage of opportunities that might arise,” he said.

UCCS already had been working on co-development agreements, which encourage businesses to become a partner in research and development.

This new venture goes further in allowing the university to be a business partner. UCCS could earn money in its joint ventures — something especially important as the state reduces higher-education funding.

“Let’s say we have technology coming out of UCCS faculty; that technology, under the university, is held by the university and managed by our Tech Transfer office,” Sweet said. “But, let’s say the best thing is to develop it through a startup. We could license the technology and form a startup company and attract investors.”

Sweet won’t make predictions about the newly formed corporation or what type of business might be the first to launch out of it.

This much he knows: “There is a lot of potential. It is important that we have this.”

UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockey-Zalabak recently outlined a bold plan for her university.

It’s growing in every way — enrollment, facilities and partnerships. UCCS contributes $310 million annually to the local economy. By, 2020 that should be about $750 million, she said.

Enrollment is projected to grow by then to 15,000 students on campus, plus another 2,000 expected to be taking courses online.

She wants UCCS to be part of the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem and to grow business, she said.

“I’m excited,” she told a group of business leaders at a recent luncheon hosted by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. “And I think you will be excited, too.”