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Center to unite recent grads

April 30, 2014 Updated: April 30, 2014 at 7:20 am
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In what's being called "unprecedented collaboration" between four higher education institutions in the Pikes Peak region, a new center to help retain recent graduates is being developed.

"It will provide the next stage of support for our young alumni who leave our institutions ready to take on the world and infuse a vibrant, creative and bold culture into the Colorado Springs community," said Pikes Peak Community College President Lance Bolton.

He, along with Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak and U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, finalized a deal last week to form the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurism.

"This collaboration has the potential to make it possible for young alumni to cross barriers - real and imagined - to work together on ideas that have the potential to bring businesses and jobs to our region," Shockley-Zalabak said.

The area has lacked a strong base of young professionals for years, and the population of millennials continues to decline, according to the 2013 Quality of Life Indicators Report for the Pikes Peak region. The persistent inability to attract young professionals has led to economic problems, the most recent report, produced by Pikes Peak United Way, concludes.

The four academic leaders discussed the idea of working together for several months, and in March the El Pomar Foundation awarded their initiative, the Innovation Incubator Program, $100,000 to get started.

"The program provides an opportunity to keep recent graduates in the Pikes Peak region, and for us, it's impressive that the leaders of four academic institutions in the Springs are working together to collaborate on a program that benefits the region," said Lori Bellingham, director of communications for the El Pomar Foundation, a Colorado Springs-based funder of various nonprofit and charitable programs statewide.

El Pomar also will provide fellows to assist with the project, Bellingham said. The fellows will meet with local entrepreneurs and students to assess their needs, conduct research, identify elements for success and seek other funding.

Details have yet to be hammered out, but what's certain is that each institution will hold equal footing in governance and operations. Each institution will select its top aspiring entrepreneur graduates, and alumni from all four institutions will support those graduates by sharing their experiences and acting as advisers, mentors and potential business partners.

The heads of PPCC, CC, UCCS and the AFA envision setting up an office, perhaps in the downtown area, for working, collaborating, teaching, meeting, mentoring and drinking coffee, Bolton said.

"When we close our eyes, we see a space that is lively, bright and energetic - one that invites people in and helps them think and dream big," he said. "This won't be traditional office space."

The center also will be a resource for the community by bringing "big ideas, specialized skills and problem-solving to local businesses," Bolton added.

The program's connection to the business community is expected to produce a ripple effect and strengthen the economy by fostering the launch of new for-profit and nonprofit ventures and a culture "tolerant of risk and capable of attracting bright and creative people, ideas and companies," he said.

In February, students and alumni at the University of Colorado in Boulder created a similar co-working space designed to connect students with the business community.

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