Elyo designs career his way without architectural training

Thu, Dec 11, 2014


DSC08871CCBrian Elyo is not your typical young professional. Without a college degree or formal training, he has cultivated an architectural career by building relationships and keeping his passion for the trade on its toes. Elyo, 38, is originally from El Paso, Texas, but has lived in the Springs since his short stint in the U.S. Air Force. He parlayed his military background in drafting and engineering into work as an architectural designer, working for local companies including CSNA Architects, RTA Architects, H&L Architecture and now Echo Architecture. Elyo, in the process of becoming a state-licensed architect, spoke this week about his nontraditional career path and the Colorado Springs environment in which it has evolved.

Can you first tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

I joined the Air Force at 19, and that is how I got into architecture. I started doing civil engineering and drafting and worked at Cheyenne Mountain. I was the only drafter on the base, so I drew everything — mechanical, electrical, civil and structural. … Eventually, the Air Force wanted to move me to Florida, but I said no and I got out. Then, around 2000, I worked for an interior designer for a year until they closed their office. That’s when I put my resumé on and really decided that I wanted to do architecture — proper architecture. So I hit the street with my resumé and my tiny little portfolio of nothing and interviewed at a couple of different places, including CSNA. … I worked there for about two years. … Then I went to work for H+L Architecture … then RTA hired me and I worked there for about two years before I quit and started freelancing in 2007 or 2008.

Did you find freelancing as an architect to be a viable career in Colorado Springs?

For me, and for what I do here, it is. It’s very hectic, but it was kind of helpful when the economy really started to take a crap. Architecture firms could call me to work on a project for a few weeks and then that was it … without them having to hire someone. And I was really getting plugged in to the architectural community, so people were starting to get to know me. It just worked out. … I taught software [at Pikes Peak Community College] while being productive and billable, so when firms were transitioning … I would get hired to be in-house help/training while also being actively productive on projects. So that was probably how I was able to get into so many offices also and keep a lot of architects as clients. … I probably ended up working for about 30-35 different firms in town.

How do you think not having a degree has affected your career?

It has been very positive, and principals love it. “Someone that hasn’t been ruined by school” is what they would tell me. …

How did you come to work for Echo Architecture and what is your role at the firm?

Every time [architect Ryan Lloyd] needed help, he would ask around and everybody would tell him to talk to me. … It took about a year before my workload lightened up and he got enough work to “take the bite,” but we’ve been working together for about a year now. … The work that we do is mostly small commercial, and we’re waiting for the bigger stuff to happen. So far I’ve helped Echo on Iron Bird Brewing, Pueblo 210 and other smaller projects.

Why did you choose to stay in the Springs after getting out of the military?

It was originally because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. Now I’m married and have two kids, and this is a fine place to live. … When I first moved here, it was sort of the doldrums, but now it seems like everyone wants to invest in the city — not just money, but time and energy. People actually want to stay here now. People like Ryan [Lloyd] are adamant about doing work in the Springs. … I want to design buildings where I live; not just because I want to see them, but because I know how it feels to be here.

What was developing as a young professional like for you in Colorado Springs?

It was very easy for my personality type, because I’m very naive and I had no idea what I was getting into. … And I’m also not what many people would describe as a young professional: I have no degree, no formal training, none of that. … I think people hire me because I’m a decent designer, I’ve got a good eye and I absolutely love architecture. 

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Kinlaw brings legal, business expertise to Colorado Springs firm

Mon, Dec 8, 2014


DSC07986With the word “law” in his name and a number behind it, Joe D. Kinlaw II seems to have been born to become an attorney. Kinlaw, 28, is a transactional lawyer practicing business law and estate planning for Mulliken Weiner Berg & Jolivet, where he started in July. Originally from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Kinlaw decided to start his career and a family in the Springs after law school when his wife became pregnant with their first child. He spoke this week about that, the local lawyer scene, why he loves Colorado Springs and what he does for business owners in the community.

Tell us about your background.

I have a business degree from the University of Northern Colorado, where I minored in economics, and I went to law school shortly thereafter at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California. I graduated magna cum laude from there and was the editor-in-chief of the Law Review. Originally, I’m from Dallas. I moved out here to Colorado in middle school with my family — my parents came out here and fell in love with the Springs, the views and that was it.

What made you decide to return to the Springs after college?

For one, the beauty really is hard to beat. My wife and I found out we had a child on the way, which also helped us to make the decision to move back to be close to family.

How did you become interested in law?

When I was in business school I took a business law course and fell in love with it, so I took another one. That helped me solidify my decision to go to grad school. Pursuing an education is always something that interested me, but I really found my passion for law in business school.

How did your specialties develop?

I really found my niche in law school. … Entrepreneurship is really something that interests me and I believe it is what this country really is founded upon and has led our success in the world. I want to help new business owners prepare for the future and to anticipate for problems when they do happen. So I’m a transactional lawyer and specialize in the area of business law and estate planning, which often go hand-in-hand with small business owners. … Estate planning is something that many people think of as just a niche area for the elderly — people for whom death is more realized or accepted. Younger people tend not to think about it and don’t plan, and that is an area I’m trying to branch my practice out to those young entrepreneurs.

What is it like, practicing law as a young professional in the Springs?

Everyone has been very receptive and excited to see a new, young face in town. Colorado Springs is just such a great community; one thing leads to another here and it’s very connected. It has been a really great experience starting my career.

Are you involved with young professionals?

I’m involved in the bar associations and I would like to see members of those bars a bit more active than they are, especially down here in the Springs where it is a bit more difficult to be a young person in the legal profession. … A lot of people run off to Denver and end up missing the opportunities that are here. This is a place to grow and begin making those connections that will create a career avenue.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My wife and I love to put the little guy in a backpack and go explore. We’re a big outdoors family — we hike, go four-wheeling and just love to take a back road and see where it leads.

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Heffentrager follows his calling to position with Navigators

Wed, Nov 26, 2014

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IMG_7863CCMark Heffentrager is a man of God — both personally and professionally. When he moved to Colorado from Arizona in 1998, he started work as an Eagle Lake Camps counselor for the Navigators and has been with them ever since. Now 40, Heffentrager serves the faith-based nonprofit as director of camping ministries both on the road and from his office at Glen Eyrie. The family man spoke to the Business Journal this week about his roots, his wife and kids and how they have influenced his role with the Navs.

Can you tell me about your background and how you got to Colorado?

I was born in Hawaii, because my father was in the military, and grew up in Tucson, Arizona. I started school at Arizona State and soon became disenchanted with school, so I left college to get started in the working world. I found my way up here because I was a 22-year-old kid heading nowhere in life and I came up to Colorado just to get away. Then I started as a counselor at Eagle Lake and one summer was offered a job to come on and do public relations. I did finish my education eventually in 2005 at Colorado Christian University’s satellite campus down here with a degree in organizational management and an emphasis in Christian leadership.

Have you always been religious?

I have. I grew up in a Christian home and as many Christians would say, there was a season of my life when I just walked away and explored what I felt the world had to offer. I ran down a lot of different roads, but it was the hope of Jesus that brought me back to an understanding that this is what I believe. As I’ve continued down this road, both personally and professionally, I’ve had the privilege to work in an area that I get to express that belief freely and openly.

How has your role changed since you’ve been here?

I started as just a public relations guy, beating the drum for Eagle Lake. At the time, we only had the one property, which has been there since 1957. I would go around and meet with families, youth pastors, marketing agencies, everyone, to push Eagle Lake. … When I started as a counselor in 1998, we had 1,800 campers. In 2001, we had 2,600 campers. Then 9/11 hit and everyone in our industry took a step backward. Last summer at our overnight property was the second-largest summer we’ve had in the history of Eagle Lake. So it has taken us a while to get back to that, but in the midst of all that I went from being a public relations guy to being assistant director for camp. Then, in 2001, Executive Director Jack McQueeney asked me to oversee everything to do with kids as director of camp. That would eventually include a day camp that we run at Glen Eyrie and a program called On Location, in which we partner with churches across the country to bring a camp to their property for a week.

What is your day-to-day like, and how does it change throughout the year?

It’s a lot of fundraising — that’s the first thing. … Eagle Lake runs at about a $2 million budget, and we don’t want to charge our kids more than we have to. So we raise a substantial amount of money so that we can keep prices down and really serve the community. … But my gifts are in creativity and leadership, so I have the chance to bring my own, unique contribution to each area of our program. I spend a lot of time traveling and selling Eagle Lake to churches and communities across the country, and I also spend a lot of time with parents and people in the community to continue to push Eagle Lake forward in a positive light. We want to be good, active members in our community.

How has starting a family affected your work with children?

I actually met my wife at Eagle Lake and we have served in every position. … In our third year at the camp, I convinced a very beautiful woman to marry a very ugly guy and have been married almost 14 years. I have three kids — 6, 3 and six months. … What really changed for me was going from caring about kids as a counselor to really understanding what it means to have your own kids. … As a parent now, I understand that it’s my job as director of camp to help parents understand why this is important for their kids and that their kids will be safe in our care. … It has changed me as a business person. I think I’m more able to relate to parents and people, and I’ve looked at my staff differently since becoming a dad of three.

You have the rare experience of having developed as a young professional within the same organization in the same location. What has that been like?

It’s interesting having been in this job for 17 years now. When I first got here, I was just trying to keep my head above water, and I don’t think I really took advantage of relationships. As I’ve grown, I’ve recognized all the great things we have going on in our culture. … I think there is a vibrant community here, and it’s a laid-back community, and chances to develop deeper relationships. … This is a great place to live, and I’ve really enjoyed it. My wife is from the South and I am from the Southwest, but we don’t plan to return to either of those places. Colorado Springs is our home. 

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Hitchcock uses role at UpaDowna to find solutions on the trail

Mon, Nov 24, 2014

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IMG_7721CC_1Steve Hitchcock and his nonprofit UpaDowna are on a mission to slow people down and show them the value of community. The 37-year-old Florida native serves as executive director of the organization, which aims to provide access to outdoor adventures and bring all walks of life together on the trail. Hitchcock, also known as “Yeti,” is also a husband, father, military veteran, beer lover and outdoorsman. He spoke with the Business Journal about what UpaDowna means, how it has evolved and the impact he hopes it has on the Colorado Springs community.

Where are you from and how did you end up in Colorado Springs?

I was brought here by the military in 2004. I’m originally from Jacksonville, Fla., but I’ll never, ever go back there. … My entire life I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors — hiking and biking, climbing and skiing, running and jumping, skipping and scraping and just getting dirty — and I love it. Colorado is a great place to do that, especially Colorado Springs because we’re so close to Pikes Peak, Pike National Forest, the trails and open spaces. There’s no better place to be involved both with the human culture as well as nature.

Can you tell me a bit about your education and military service?

I went to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and was a philosophy major. … After that, I joined the Army, went in as a private and then 9/11 happened. I went to Germany, then Iraq, and then after some incidents in Iraq and a couple of surgeries I was brought here and medically discharged/retired.

How did UpaDowna get started?

I had been doing the UpaDowna thing in Germany since 2002. We knew we were going to war and a lot of the soldiers were 18 or 19 years old and afraid they were going to die. They weren’t retaining the information and it was extremely important that they did. So I started taking them into the Swiss Alps and we’d go up mountains and teach tactics, movements and drills in our civilian clothes and then we’d come down, camp and drink good, strong German beer. Those are the “up a mountain, down a beer” roots.

What role do you feel it has played in the community?

One of the greatest things UpaDowna has done is help me. I moved to Green Mountain Falls to escape people but now it’s forced therapy, if you will. Being able to share my passions with others helps me deal with some of the stresses of combat. I didn’t know what community was — I thought it was a word used as a catchphrase for someone to sell you something. … It doesn’t matter where you come from, whether you’re rich or poor, if you’re underdeveloped or overdeveloped, whether you have a disability or some hang-up — we’re all part of it, and that is what UpaDowna stands for.

We truly are a community. We’re everybody, and we’re not exclusive. That’s a valuable lesson for me, and I think that is a valuable lesson for the world. We’re all people but we just have to respect each other. … Outdoors, everyone comes together around this one thing, and that is the experience. Nature opens up a new part of us and we become more in tune with ourselves and each other.

How has UpaDowna evolved since it started?

When I came here, I was pretty wound up still and had a lot of anxiety — it’s really hard going from being shot at constantly to come to a city where things come at you from every direction. I started just getting out in nature and began asking people if they’d like to come along … and people liked it. Then we started doing the Incline happy hour. We would hike the Incline (before it was legal), drink a beer at the top and run down the Barr Trail. That grew to 70 people through word of mouth. Then we started teaching classes and the name UpaDowna slowly started to stick. … It was just a club where we would go for a hike and drink a beer, climb a 14er and drink a beer, get outdoors and drink some beers. That’s the Colorado mountain lifestyle — bust your ass on the trail and enjoy a craft beer. … Then Michael Hannigan and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation took us under their wing and gave us some of the tools to really do it. Now we’re community-supported rather than having to rely on advertising dollars through our website. … I’d rather have a little money for the right reasons than a lot of money for the wrong reasons.

What do you think of the young professional community in Colorado Springs?

I think a revolution is coming and we’re seeing it right now in Colorado Springs. We’re starting the Ute and Yeti pub over at City Rock, which is an effort between a climbing gym and a nonprofit to raise money but it’s also to build community. … The problem I think Colorado Springs has with young professionals is that the young professionals aren’t opening their damn eyes.

Look around: There are great groups, there are great organizations and there are great resources. This is the rebirth of America! We have people who are creative, passionate and hard-working. We may not have a lot of money, but we love what we do and we’re not going to let anything stop us. That’s what young professionals need to do. … Stop whining and get engaged; you’re the voice of change, so if you want something, then do it and don’t take no for an answer.

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Inspired by humor, Johnston helps BBB in communication

Fri, Nov 14, 2014

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IMG_7624CCCrystal Johnston is a funny girl, and one who cares about the Colorado Springs business community. The 30-year-old Denver native works as director of marketing and events for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and runs an Improv comedy company on the side. In the year since she started at the BBB, Johnston said she has incorporated themes from her standup experience to teach people how to think on their feet and be more successful communicators in business. Johnston spoke to the Business Journal this week about that, her decision to make the Springs her home and what she does for the BBB.

Can you start by telling us about your education and professional background?

I grew up in Denver and moved when I was in the middle of high school to Florissant and ended up going to Woodland Park High School. I graduated early — technically in December of 2001. Then I was a banker for many years. I was a teller, then a reconciliations clerk, then a personal banker, then a business banker, then a customer relationship banker and so on. I finally finished my degree in business communications and got a job marketing with Drive-In Autosound, which sells high-end auto accessories. I marketed for them and developed their website and that’s really when I started enjoying events.

So I did that for a few years before I was contacted by Graham Advertising and was brought over as an account executive. I worked for them for a little less than a year handling commercials for Honda associations. We did that for about 150 Honda dealers and six Honda associations on the East Coast. … That’s how I met Matt Barrett, who was the COO for the organization. He left in early 2013 to come to the Better Business Bureau and in September of last year my position became available here. So he contacted me to see if it would be a good fit and I have really fallen in love with it since I’ve been here. It has just been a blast.

What does your role at the BBB entail?

My day-to-day is always different. I’m the director of marketing and events, the foundation and public relations. I handle the website and social media, I have two staff members who handle events, I have an outsourced public relations person and a part-time web developer who all work with me in my department. One of our claims to fame are our events. We just got done with our Night of Excellence event, which showcases businesses in the community that excel in customer service and ethics, as well as high school students who are rewarded with $2,500 college scholarships. That concluded Oct. 2 and we have our Buzz with the Bees networking breakfast coming up on the 19th, which is a new thing since I’ve been here.

Why did you choose to start a career in Colorado Springs?

I did want to look for career opportunities in Denver when I was younger, but the positions I was being offered were all here. I like Colorado Springs — it’s a close-knit community and one of the biggest small towns I know. I like being able to connect with my community and see people that I recognize.

How do you feel about this environment for the development of young, female professionals?

I also own a business, and I’ve found that people in Colorado Springs highly regard women in business — especially business owners. I think that all women in business tend to struggle in the sense that you try to get ahead but just can’t or don’t meet the qualifications or those sorts of things. I really think Colorado Springs assists in equality and growth, not just for women but also with the elderly and with military — really pushing those individuals forward.

So that’s one thing that I’m very grateful for in Colorado Springs, and I feel as if the competition just isn’t as high. I feel like Denver tends to have a higher level of young professionals than Colorado Springs, so as a young professional and as a woman, I really feel like I have a leg up because we don’t have as many people competing for opportunities.

Tell me about your business.

I’ve been a standup comedian and improv comedian since 2009. … At the beginning of this year, me and a partner of mine were sort of wondering why we don’t just start our own company. So we started a business called Improv Anywhere. We don’t necessarily perform improv; what we prefer to do is teach people improv. So what we’ll do is go to businesses, companies and explain to them the importance of improv and how it can really change your day-to-day thinking process and how you can actually benefit from thinking on your feet.

I work with Colorado Technical University and teach their students improv … I’ve worked with Leadership Pikes Peak and their students … I love performing, and I still do, but I’d much rather show people how improv will teach you to think on your feet and totally change your perspective of people.

What’s next for you? What are your professional goals?

I really want my business to be recognized and to get the name out there. I’d also love to get to a place within this next year where I can get to a point where I can run half marathons and full marathons. … I’d like to be in a VP-type of position or a larger-title position within my early 30s. I’ve strived to become a young, working professional for quite a while, and I want to continue to push myself to get to that level.

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Talbott starts anew in space with Lockheed Martin program

Fri, Nov 7, 2014

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IMG_7600CCLike most children, Darrin Talbott pondered what it might be like to go to space. Now, at 40, he’s closer to that goal than most would dream. After 15 years working for defense contractors in this area, Talbott joined Lockheed Martin earlier this year to work on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle program with NASA. When he isn’t at work at Lockheed’s Waterton facility, Talbott runs a nylon soft goods company called Extreme Gear Labs that has experienced growth and success, celebrating its 11th year in operation next month. Talbott spoke to the Business Journal this week about his day job, his side business, his family and how he’s able to successfully juggle the lot.

Where are you from originally and how did you land here?

I’m originally from Korea. I moved here to Colorado as part of “Uncle Sam’s World Tour.” My father was stationed at Fort Carson and when he retired he decided this would be a good place for us to live. That was 30 years ago this year and I’m still here!

Where did you go to college?

I went to school at Colorado State University back in the ’90s. When I graduated with a degree in information technology, the Web was a very new-fangled thing. During my last semester at CSU, I actually signed on with the National Park Service as a web designer/webmaster. I didn’t really see it as anything, let alone resumé fodder. I just thought of it as pizza money … but it proved to be a boon for me in terms of Booz Allen Hamilton seeing me working in the industry before graduating college, which was a big plus. I managed to get into that company just a couple of months after graduation. From there I signed on as a web developer designing toolsets for a variety of Air Force applications. I moved on from there to supporting organizations out of Schriever Air Force Base … and then I ended my experience with Booz doing support for the Air Force Satellite Control Network and the Navy’s satellite communications program.

When did you find time to start a business?

When I left the Department of Homeland Security arena, I decided I had time to build and groom this side company, Extreme Gear Labs. It had gotten to the point where I was able to secure funding and have some of my products mass-produced. …Then a company contacted me about working with NASA with what ended up being a program developing the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. By then my company was self-sufficient, and that isn’t really an offer that you turn down. I’ve been on board for about six months and every day is a challenge, but it’s going well. We have a test launch next month out of Florida.

How do you think this environment has helped shape your career?

I was sort of predestined for this because of my background in military — being a military brat and just being a part of that culture. Colorado Springs has a very interesting business environment in part because of its heavy ties with the defense industry. I think to a certain extent, that can have sort of a negative impact on getting young professionals who aren’t keyed into that industry interested in being here. … I think Colorado Springs has a kind of potential that cannot be had on either coast, but it’s a matter of getting the cultural component taken care of and making it become what young professionals want. That entails needing to understand what young professionals want and desire. … There is a lot of promise here, and Colorado Springs has a lot to give to companies.

What’s in the future for your company?

I want to be involved in bringing back the manufacturing industry to Colorado Springs. That would be what it takes to get me to leave NASA, to be part of the rebirth and growth of Colorado Springs manufacturing. I think the biggest thing right now is trying to convince people that this really is a tenable industry to branch into.

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Kensinger sees big year coming for Colorado Springs

Fri, Oct 31, 2014

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IMG_7568CCFrom his position as a Colorado Springs commercial real estate broker, Stanton Kensinger says 2015 looks to be a good year. Kensinger, 31, has been a broker for Olive Real Estate Group for three years and specializes in tenant representation. He said he is hopeful that as industry and commerce continue to boom in Denver and northern Colorado, the “wave of momentum” will travel this way. Kensinger spoke about that, his family, his career and why he chose to settle down in his hometown of Colorado Springs after years of travel.

Can you tell me a bit about your education and professional background?

I was born and raised in Denver, lived in Colorado Springs the majority of my life, went to District 12 — Cañon Elementary and Cheyenne Mountain Junior High School and High School — then I went to an East Coast boarding school my junior year of high school for hockey. I played out in Salisbury, Connecticut, and then went to Hobart College for hockey. I was there for all four years and then drove to Alaska, did commercial salmon fishing, drove down to San Diego and eventually found my way back to Colorado and haven’t left since.

What brought you back to Colorado Springs?

I worked in Boulder for a while at a restaurant called Sushi Zanmai before I got a job in Colorado Springs working for Strategic Financial Planners doing 401K consulting. I worked there for about two years. From there, I did about two years working for Blue Sky Restoration as their national catastrophe coordinator, so I ran operations for all of the disasters from Hurricane Irene to the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Joplin.

I did that for two and a half years, got married and decided it was time to stay put and make Colorado Springs home. I interviewed with almost all of the commercial real estate firms in Colorado Springs, knowing that I wanted to get into the industry here. I interviewed with all six partners at Olive and just really found it to be the right fit and where I wanted to go with my career.

It being the largest locally owned commercial brokerage firm in the Springs was also enticing, specifically regarding the business side of things and representing buyers and tenants who don’t want to be tied down to a national brokerage and who want that local feel, local presence and local knowledge. That’s what I was going for.

What drove you into real estate and to Olive?

With my old man doing it for 30-plus years, I think it was kind of ingrained in me. I think development is something that is both the history and the future of Colorado Springs, and I think it’s what enticed me — the control I might have in building a bigger, brighter future in this town. I think 2015 is going to be a big year for Colorado Springs.

I see my part as minimal, just trying to learn from the partners at Olive and trying to do my part for the clients I represent, but I just believe that the developers have big plans for next year.

I feel a good wave of momentum coming down this way. With Denver becoming too expensive and with Northern Colorado booming, we’re just here for the taking.

How has your role at the company evolved since you joined the team?

Part of the reason I chose Olive is because they let you create the position for yourself, so you’re really an entrepreneur. They don’t say you have to do just office, or just industrial, or just multi-family, but that you can discover what it is you want to end up doing. That has been hugely beneficial to my own development and understanding of the market as a whole. I would say my expertise is probably tenant representation. I’m getting more involved in seller representation. That’s really the majority of what I do in the office, industrial and retail markets.

What do you think of the Springs in terms of development as a YP?

I think it’s a wonderful city to develop as a young professional. I feel like it is a good way to see how involvement in a community can truly help your development as a professional in the Springs. If you really, truly give time to the wonderful nonprofits, causes or even fighting for city government, you can quickly come up on top as a leader. I feel that more people need to step up. I really think 2015 will also be a big year for young professionals.

What do you do in your spare time?

I’m on the executive board for Junior Achievement … I’m also on the foundation board of the Better Business Bureau and help them with their scholarship money and support. I also just try to help the BBB and make sure the money is going to the right place. I’m married, my wife’s name is Kristy, and we have an 8-month-old little girl named Elle. Our spare time is spent trying to enjoy the Colorado lifestyle — enjoying the mountain biking, skiing and fly fishing whenever I can and just trying to enjoy the great outdoors.

What is in the near future for yourself and the market?

I think multi-family housing has been the biggest piece of the market for the past few years, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. My partners and I have really reached out to the market and found a lot of out-of-state investors for properties. We’re just trying to find sellers to at least look at opportunities to sell their properties. n CSBJ

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Popular local artist goes from starving to thriving

Mon, Oct 20, 2014

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IMG_7185CCPhil Lear has made quite the impression on the local arts scene since he arrived in Colorado Springs 15 years ago. The Canadian-born painter has commissioned works for The Mining Exchange hotel and several restaurants throughout the community, including one of his largest works, an Alice in Wonderland-themed piece, displayed at the Rabbit Hole in downtown Colorado Springs. Lear’s muses include music and history, leading to pieces known to mix discomfort with familiarity. Lear, 39, spoke this week with the Business Journal about telling stories, the inspiration of cowbells and learning there’s never a perfect time to follow one’s dream.

You’re originally from Canada. How did you end up here?

My dad worked at a meatpacking [plant in Ontario, Canada]. He was getting laid off and was originally from Pennsylvania, and we moved back there. I left to go to college at [Pensacola Christian] in Florida and was back in Pennsylvania after I graduated. I got a call from one of my buddies who was working [here] at a Christian publishing place. I moved out here and got a job laying out math books and textbooks. That lasted for about four years before I pretty much went into art full time.

Why Pensacola Christian College?

It was a ministry school, but their art program was better than a lot of art tech schools. It was a very classical education … lacking in a lot of schools. Today, there is a real push for self-expression, but without any sort of base. We drew using just pencil for a year before we even touched paint.

Talk about your time in Switzerland.

It was out of college. I found a job posting on a board for graduates. I was doing [book] design and layout and switching out French, Spanish and German text. It was a great job working while cowbells are ringing right outside your door. We were very sequestered on a mountaintop. You could leave your bedroom and in 20 minutes you were standing on jagged rocks looking at the Alps.

How did you make the decision to leave design and pursue your art full time?

Textbooks weren’t what I wanted to do. You hear about people putting off their dream. They want to wait until the situation’s perfect, and there’s never a good time to follow your dream. It’s just right now. I decided to move forward, and it doesn’t kill you. I was a starving artist for a while. But I had people in the art community who gave me breaks. … I had to sell my house and do a lot of downsizing. I pretty much went from having nothing and sleeping in a studio for nine months to sharing an apartment with a couple guys. … Now I do my art pretty much full time instead of having to take on odd jobs, which I’ll still do.

When did you discover your affinity for art?

It’s been pretty much as long as I can remember. I was always drawing and doodling. I remember my parents got me these little books that had lines at the bottom of the pages and the rest of the page was blank. You would draw on the blank pages and the lines were so you could write a story. When I look back, I think that was a really good tool and did a lot to develop my creative nature.

How would you describe your art now?

It’s narrative, figurative work. It’s a trend that’s kind of resurfacing. There was a lot of it in the 1800s. Some of it is grotesque, but it’s usually story-driven and has a narrative that can stand on its own. … It’s kind of painterly realism. It’s not quite real but not quite Impressionism. It gets lots of good responses. People can’t really describe why they like it. But that’s part [of the appeal.]

How has your art evolved?

I started off painting things like still lifes. I painted things to match your couch. That was fine and all, but I have better sales now than I did with that stuff. … A lot of it comes from listening to music. I’ll listen to the same song over and over and over again through a project because there was something in the music that carried me away here or there. I listen to a lot of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and they’re very narrative performers.

What do you think of the local arts scene?

I think it’s really good. It’s not moving backwards. It’s moving forward. … It’s weird, though, because you have people with money here in town and you have artists painting locally. A lot of those people [buying art] are leaving town to purchase their art, and a lot of local artists are making livings selling their art to out-of-town collectors. I don’t think a lot of people understand there’s really good work happening here. There’s a breadth of arts here, and not just visual.

What do you do in your free time?

I do a lot of reading. … I have a little boy [Lincoln, 7] who’s really into history like I am. … The other night we created a Civil War battlefield while looking at a map. … I do teach plein air classes. … You have the red rocks, the green trees, the blue sky, the purple sage. The colors here make it very easy to teach. n CSBJ

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Health and fitness help O’Brien feel at home in Colorado

Thu, Oct 2, 2014

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IMG_9965CCBeth O’Brien doesn’t look back — a trait she has acquired through her role as a triathlete, and one she carries with her to work at Colorado Springs Health Partners. O’Brien, 33, came to Colorado Springs seven years ago after growing up in upstate New York and graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. Despite initial struggles breaking into the market during the economic recession, she became more connected to the athletic community through her work at Colorado Running Company and eventually found work as a graphic designer and marketing coordinator for CSHP. O’Brien spoke to the Business Journal this week about her five years at CSHP, her passion for fitness and being a Colorado transplant.

Can you tell me about your background and how you came to work for CSHP?

I grew up in upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley … and decided that I wanted something completely different when I left for college, so I went to Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. I graduated in 2003 and got a great job as an in-house designer for AT&T and was a graphic designer there during the big BellSouth merger. I spent almost four years with them before I moved out here with my ex-husband in 2007. The economy was obviously horrible then, and I had a hard time finding a job that would rival AT&T. I ended up getting a job at a small company here and they laid me off after about 10 months, which was actually a blessing in disguise. That’s when I started working for Colorado Running Company, just to make ends meet, and put together their website and I worked on the retail side of something that was my passion — running. I really found my niche here working for them, and I still do some work for them. … It had been about two years, and the economy started to get better, when I saw a listing that CSHP had posted online for a graphic designer and marketing person. I applied, got the job, and October will be my five-year anniversary with CSHP. It has been a fun ride so far.

How does working for CSHP compare to AT&T and other jobs you’ve had?

It’s very interesting, and I love it. … Here it is about being flexible and being knowledgable about the industry, and also what you do. What I love about it is that it’s not the same thing every day. Some days I will be at a health fair, while others I will be designing health pamphlets for patients or a new brochure because there is something new with the Affordable Care Act that is going to affect our patients. So I use my skills as a graphic designer to help people understand health care systems. It’s an awesome place to be.

Graphic design and marketing coordination seem like two sides to the same coin.

It is almost the best of both worlds: I love being social and being connected and the dynamic of all of that, but I also love to design, and that’s why I do what I do. This is such a great combination of those two things.

How long have you been interested in running, and how did you become a triathlete?

I ran cross country and track all through high school, and I played basketball during the wintertime to keep myself in shape. I carried that through college, but when I started at SCAD they didn’t have a cross-country team yet, just a running club. … Then my freshman year, the running club became a team. As soon as I found that out, I joined the cross-country team. My cross-country coach at the time was an Ironman triathlete, and she knew that I worked as a lifeguard during the summers when I went home and that I biked everywhere, so she said, “You know, I really think you would love triathlons.” So I did my first triathlon the year I graduated and haven’t looked back.

Do you get anything from running and being outdoors that you apply to your working career?

If anything, it calms me down and clears my mind. Today, when I leave work from Monument, I’ll go home and work until 10 o’clock, but this morning I made sure that I got in my 5-mile run. I knew that if I didn’t get it in, I wouldn’t feel as energized as I needed to feel for the day to do my best at work.

How would you describe CSHP’s role in the community, and how do you fit in?

We’re the largest privately owned physician group in the community. We’ve been here since 1946, and have grown over the years from just six doctors to over a hundred, as well as nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants. … My role as our in-house graphic designer, and part of our three-person marketing team, is to be part of that support system for our doctors and their clinics.

Would you say your values align with those of CSHP?

I wouldn’t work for a company I didn’t believe in. That’s kind of like being a sales person trying to pitch something they don’t believe in — you’re not going to work for that company unless you can back the product. I think we’re absolutely heading in the right direction. … I think our company is very strategically placed right where it needs to be as a company, and as far as taking care of our patients also. n CSBJ

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UCCS group helps Elliott find business future in innovation

Wed, Sep 24, 2014

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IMG_9782_2CCSam Elliott never imagined being anything other than an athlete. But after breaking his back in two places as a teen and then later leaving the UCCS golf team, he found another passion. Elliott, a 20-year-old junior from rural Iowa, overcame his social anxiety with help from the UCCS Entrepreneurship and Innovation Club, which he now serves as president. He is also on the board of Peak Startup, which is gearing up for Colorado Springs Startup Week, and is the junior teaching assistant for a freshman networking course. Elliott spoke to the Business Journal about accidentally finding a passion and degree path in innovation, making a name for himself in a new part of the country, and his vision for the future of Colorado Springs’ startup culture.

First, can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I went to school and grew up in Iowa. From a young age I loved sports, and that is all I cared about. I thought that I was going to play sports for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, when I was 15 years old I ended up breaking my back in two different places. That completely threw me off, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. … Through that, it really damaged my social skills, and I went into high school not being interested in anything. Then, after my freshman year of high school, my father pressured me into playing golf. … Then I graduated high school and started looking for colleges out of state to go play golf for. I was going to go to a school in South Carolina with an absolutely amazing golf instructor … but a week after my visit, he called and said “I’m sorry, I just got a job opportunity that I can’t pass up.”

I was lost, and I had no idea what I was going to do. It was the summer before my freshman year of college and I had no idea where I wanted to go to school. All I knew is that I wanted to play golf. Then I received a voicemail from the assistant coach at UCCS saying, “We’d love for you to come out and play golf with us this fall.” That month was crazy. I came out and started playing golf, but I just wasn’t enjoying it and I decided to step away from the team. Then I ended up accidentally signing up for an innovation class … I wasn’t even in the Bachelor of Innovation program! I was undeclared at the time, but I fell in love on the first day of class.

What was the transition like from socially awkward kid to confident teacher?

I’ve done a lot of work in the past two years to improve my skills. One thing was getting involved with Peak Startup at the Pitch Nights downtown at Epicentral, which is when I got exposed to other entrepreneurial and innovation organizations. I’m really bad at five-minute speeches and presentations because I tend to ramble, but I told myself that I was going to pitch my mobile app and really put myself in an uncomfortable situation. I didn’t do so well during the first pitch … next week I came back and absolutely killed it. So going from socially awkward to teaching a class and motivating students is one of those situations where I just have to put myself out there. I had never taught a class before, so it has been a new experience for me. But that experience has helped me grow, which is really all I’m trying to do right now — grow and take advantage of as many opportunities as I can get right now.

How did you get involved with Peak Startup?

When I became president of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Club, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I knew where the club needed to go, and I knew the potential. That’s when I ran into Peak Startup, right after the two organizations had merged. Then, toward the latter half of last year, we got hooked up with Nick Lee, who is a professor here on campus. He heard about what we were doing … and we ended up agreeing that every president of the club should be a member of the board of Peak Startup. That really made sense and it was really kind of a milestone for us. It has been a great learning experience.

How do you think that moving to Colorado Springs has affected your career path?

In Iowa, I would live in the shadow of my father. My father is a great golfer and he owns and operates a family business that sells municipal equipment — garbage trucks, street sweepers, sewer cameras and things like that — which is very successful and has grown to a large market share in the Midwest. … I’m glad I’m here in Colorado Springs, because we’re trying to prove ourselves as an entrepreneurship city. I like the challenge of putting this city on the map as a center for innovation, and a lot of things are on the way that I just cannot believe.

What do you see for the future of all of this?

Our mission is to build an entrepreneurship community within the city, and part of that is building one here on campus. We share the same mission, just with different audiences. I have a vision of Colorado Springs as a city for innovation. n CSBJ

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