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Colorado Springs colleges team up to promote innovation in downtown center

April 17, 2017 Updated: April 18, 2017 at 12:48 pm
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Executive director Jacob Eichengreen and the rest of the Quad Innovation Partnership is focused on cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs. Photo by Wayne Heilman, The Gazette.

The Quad Innovation Space in downtown Colorado Springs isn't planned as a home for startups, the latest technology or cool products but instead is focused on cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs from its four participating colleges that will create the startup, technology or product.

Every piece of furniture in the 2,000-square-foot room in the basement of 408 S. Nevada Ave., which also houses Loyal Coffee, is on wheels to provide maximum flexibility to host business competitions and other events, educational programs like the summer pilot offered last summer, or provide an area for students working on consulting projects, said Jacob Eichengreen, executive director of the Quad Innovation Partnership that operates the space. The partnership includes the Air Force Academy, Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

"We have tried to differentiate ourselves from other campus innovation programs and centers. Those are focused primarily on companies, products and technologies. We are focused on incubating talent and deepening the top of the entrepreneurial funnel of those who have potential to become entrepreneurs," said Eichengreen, who was hired in August to head the partnership. "The value of the four institutions partnering together is the depth of what each institution offers. We hope that will lead to more connections between the schools and more opportunities for the students."

The innovation space will celebrate its grand opening from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday in the parking lot behind the building, the first of several events sponsored or cosponsored by the partnership. Those include a Tech2Market event starting Friday to share three new Air Force technologies with industry officials, investors and entrepreneurs; the El Pomar Forum for Civic Advancement panel discussion of the Startup Ecosystem in Colorado Springs on April 27; the Rim Technologies NASA SpaceApps Challenge from April 29-30 and the Get into the Ring competition on May 3.

The partnership's summer program, offered on pilot basis in 2015, also will be hosted in the space, allowing current students and recent graduates of the four colleges to tackle "some of the most compelling opportunities, problems and challenges in the community and find out what it takes to bring ideas to the marketplace," Eichengreen said. Teams of three to five people from all four schools will work full-time for a month on challenges ranging from homelessness, energy and water that will be presented to a local company or nonprofit organization for recommendations.

"It is an opportunity for further engagement, which could be in the form of funding, an internship or even employment," said Eichengreen, who hopes to also host weekend workshops and other programs that won't be for academic credit, although the four schools are working on a way to offer credit for those programs.

"Our mission is to elevate, educate and create innovators in Colorado Springs, turning ideas into valuable action," Eichengreen said. "That can be innovation applied to a for-profit business or a nonprofit entity, a civic or policy innovation and innovation that is applied at an existing business or organization."

The partnership will experiment with several types of programs to determine what works best for its target audience, with a goal of keeping more of the alumni from the four colleges in Colorado Springs by demonstrating they can access resources more easily in Colorado Springs than they could in larger cities, Eichengreen said.

The third element of the partnership and innovation space will be offering student and recent graduates opportunities to work on small consulting projects they can tackle while still in school or working at a full-time job, such as the economic benefit of repaving the street in front of the Ivywild School complex. Eichengreen said that project was recommended by Ivywild School partner and local restaurant owner Joe Coleman as an example of the type of projects students could take on that will give them opportunities for later internships or jobs with businesses and nonprofits.

The partnership started with a $100,000 grant from El Pomar Foundation as its "angel" round of investing, but is currently seeking up to $750,000 in "seed capital" for its next three or four years of operation before it become self-sustaining after some "refining and pivoting," Eichengreen said.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

Facebook Wayne Heilman

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