By guest authors Irina Patterson and Vandana Upadhyay
Diane: The other program we have is called the Venture Design program. And this is with the University of Colorado Aerospace Engineering Sciences program. We support a number of graduate hands-on and design projects in the aerospace department, in the hopes that one or more of them will transition in the incubator.
Through that support, we have access to student-workers and interns on behalf of our companies at a reduced rate. That has been very helpful. In addition, a couple of our companies have hired a couple of faculty members in the aerospace department.
Irina: What are the sources of your applications for the incubator?
Diane: In general, we have put out a call for ventures. We put now three of them over two years. We have gotten in these two years about 74 to 75 applications.
Now eSpace is becoming pretty well known in Colorado. We are starting to see applications from individuals who have just heard about the eSpace programs.
We do a press release. We focus both on the Colorado areas and on national publications and blogs and other social media. A number of the companies that have applied have been from outside the state. And a number of them have been interested in moving to the state if they were admitted to the program.
We also put an advertisement in Space News. We contact all the SBIR companies in Colorado to see if they need assistance. So, those have been the primary ways in which we have recruited the companies into the incubator.
Irina: How many applications do you usually get with this outreach? How do you process these applications?
Diane: We get on about 20 to 25, on average. Our biggest one was the first one with 40 applications in the first round because there was definitely pent-up demand for our services.
Our first step is to ask a candidate company to complete just an online questionnaire that is on our website.
It is about five to six questions. We do that just to determine whether the company has an innovation that we can actually support. Do we have expertise in that area? Is it a viable technology?
And, if we think it is, then we ask them to complete what we call a 10Q, which is 10 questions that are typical VC or investor might ask of a startup company.
How big is the market? Who are your potential customers? How are you going to protect your IP? What is your management team expertise and experience?
If we think that the answers to those questions prove that they might be a viable company, we ask them to come in, and we have a long discussion with them and really get to know them as people, as entrepreneurs, as innovators.
We ask them more about their technology and, if the staff believes that it is a viable company, then we take it to what is called the investment advisory team, which is a subset of the board, as well some experts from that particular sector, who then review it and make a recommendation to the board, and the board of directors makes a final decision whether the candidate will be invited to become a participating company in the incubator.
Irina: How long does it take for a company to go through the process and finally be accepted?
Diane: It depends on how complete the information that they submit to us is. In some cases it has been a few weeks; in other cases it has been a few months. We try to help them in the 10Q to be as thorough as possible, try to speed up the process.
Irina: Once you accept them, what is your next step?
Diane: Even before we accept them, the first thing we do is to determine whether we can find an appropriate, experienced CEO mentor for the company.
If we cannot find one – and we have never not been able to – it is possible we would not incubate the company because the mentor plays such an important role in their success.
Once we have done that, we work with the company, we talk about this person’s background and say that this is part of our contract, this person is going to be a mentor, and they are very excited about that, of course.