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Innovate Colorado Springs sparks ideas to foster entrepreneurship

By: WAYNE HEILMAN wayneh@gazette.com
April 17, 2014 Updated: April 17, 2014 at 6:41 pm
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Joe Raso discusses his assessment of the four-day series of events promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. Image from a video by Wayne Heilman.

More than 900 people attended the 14 events staged by Innovate Colorado Springs this week in what officials are calling a successful start of an effort to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the area.

Nearly 100 business, education, nonprofit and community leaders concluded the four-day series of events Thursday with a luncheon hosted by The Gazette to discuss how to continue efforts to expand the reach and effectiveness of programs to foster innovation and entrepreneurship.

"To bring the community together like this is a big step in the right direction," said Kathy Boe, founder and CEO of Boecore, a local defense contractor that specializes in information technology.

Ideas included starting a $20 million venture capital fund, investing in local startups and creating a central clearinghouse for information about startups and entrepreneurs.

"Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, but the one thing they have in common is they are people who are willing to take a risk to achieve a goal," said Michael Larson, the El Pomar Chair of Engineering and Innovation at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, who also heads his own startup medical device company. He led the discussion, which broke into small facilitated groups to talk about four topics: resources, education, connections and communication.

The venture capital fund and another fund to make smaller initial investments in startups at the earliest stages were listed as potential outcomes of the effort - a response to local startups failing to attract little or no such funding in four of the past five years.

Colorado Springs Technology Incubator CEO Ric Denton, who facilitated one of the discussions about resources, said the area also needs find ways to prevent wealth from leaving the area so it can be invested in local companies.

Chris Blees, CEO of local accounting firm BiggsKofford and facilitator of one of the discussions about communications, said the area lacked a central hub for information about startups, such as a website that would connect many of the available resources. He suggested starting such a site, starthere.org, to act as a clearinghouse for information about innovation and entrepreneurship, much like the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region does for local arts groups.

John Street, a local entrepreneur who has started several successful technology companies in the Springs and Denver areas and facilitated the discussion on resources, said Colorado Springs should market itself as the most attractive place for remote workers to live. He described remote workers as those who work from their homes for large companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Oracle, connecting through the Internet and telephone with colleagues in traditional offices.

The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance has formed teams to set and accomplish goals in the four topic areas, said the group's CEO Joe Raso.

Raso said a similar event could be planned for next year. Meanwhile, other events are planned, including the 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Congress, a meeting of top manufacturing executives and managers scheduled for next month at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.

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