By guest authors Irina Patterson and Vandana Upadhyay
I am talking to Diane Dimeff, who is the executive director of eSpace: The Center for Space Entrepreneurship in Boulder, Colorado.
The center’s mission is threefold: 1) to help aerospace entrepreneurs to start new companies, 2) to develops commercial applications from the innovative technologies created within these companies, and 3) by collaborating with industry, government, and academia to provide career opportunities for high school, community college, and university graduates.
Irina: Hi, Diane. Let’s start with your background and how you arrived to this point.
Diane: Most of my work has been in developing graduate work at the university level, and most of that have been in business schools’ MBA programs. My most recent position prior to eSpace was in helping Carnegie Mellon start its campus in Silicon Valley that focused on graduate work and software engineering and software management.
So, I am not an aerospace person. I am actually a math person. But in all these positions that I had at business schools and Carnegie Mellon, I worked closely with entrepreneurship component of the programs.
Irina: Where are you from? Where did you go to school?
Diane: I went to UC Berkeley and I am from Saratoga, California. I studied math and anthropology, but I never used my anthropology again. It was just really interesting to me, and so I double majored.
Irina: How did you arrive at eSpace?
Diane: We had moved in Colorado in 2001 from Berkeley, where I was running the UC Berkeley MBA programs, the evening and weekend UC programs.
When we moved here, I had an opportunity to take over the MBA programs at the University of Colorado, which a place where my significant other was always interested in moving to, so I accepted that position and we moved here in 2001.
Then, in 2004 I was contacted by Carnegie Mellon. They were interested in seeing whether I would help them with their campus in Silicon Valley. They started it a couple of years, but it was struggling somewhat at the time. I am very entrepreneurial myself. I like to build new programs. I like to turn programs around. I am not a status quo person, so I accepted that position.
We moved back to California for a few years. It was a wonderful job. It was probably my favorite job of all time, but we really missed Colorado.
One day, I was talking to a friend at the University of Colorado and said, you know, at some point, I will start looking for a position in Colorado and, she said, you know, there is this position open, they want to start a non-profit organization that is a business aerospace incubator for start-ups.
I am not an aerospace person, but I ended up interviewing with two individuals whose concept it was. And, between my program development experience and their aerospace experience, we put together pretty good team of starting this 501(c)3 which would help start up aerospace companies become successful. Then we added a couple of programs to it, which I will talk about later.
It was technically founded in very late 2008. But we officially opened our doors in January 2009.
Irina: What is your current geographical focus?
Diane: We serve all of Colorado. We have had companies who have applied to the incubator from outside of the Colorado and they have moved to Colorado in order to be served. We would like very much to expand to other states.
Irina: What industry sectors do you serve at this time?
Diane: Aerospace only. I should clarify that of the nine companies we are incubating right now, three of them have commercial applications in clean energy. So, although we don’t focus on clean energy, it is a natural extension of aerospace to have clean energy applications.
Irina: Out of the nine companies that you are incubating now, how many are what we call, software-enabled service businesses?
Diane: Probably five or six are software enabled, but some of those are also developing hardware that the software is supporting.
Irina: At what stage should companies apply to your incubation program?
Diane: It is interesting that we have companies that have a very strong idea and have just started the research. We have companies that have a prototype. We have companies that are $2 million companies already, but can not get to the next level because of the vagaries of the aerospace industry. So, we are all over the board.