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5/9/2004

CTEK evolving in direction of a statewide entity

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Ever since Lu Cordova took over as president of CTEK — then the Boulder Technology Incubator — in 2001, she has made it her goal to transform it into a statewide organization.

That goal appears to be on the verge of becoming reality, and there’s a possibility that CTEK-Longmont might become the model for other similar organizations around the state.

While an official announcement is still forthcoming, the Daily Times-Call has learned that CTEK has entered into a “strategic combination” with Colorado Venture Centers, a nonprofit business incubator.

Cordova said both boards of directors already have approved the alliance, although various state agencies must give their approval to make the deal official, given the not-for-profit status of CTEK and CVC.

The plan, Cordova said, is for CTEK “Venture Centers” to spring up around the state. For instance, there will be a Boulder Venture Center, a Denver Venture Center, and sometime this summer, it’s expected that CTEK-Longmont will form a new entity “doing business as” the Longmont Venture Center.

“The different centers around the state could form their own entities,” Cordova said. “It’s premature to have actually defined the agreement between the partnership (with CVC) as an organization or a group and a venture center. That’s what we are defining now.

“We’ve been looking to the Longmont committee as being the testing center for this — the proving ground.”

In the coming week, Cordova has meetings planned with other business incubators around the state that currently are not affiliated with CTEK — including incubators from Grand Junction, Denver and Colorado Springs.

The way CTEK-Longmont has operated “might or might not” become the model for other Venture Centers, Cordova said, adding that what has occurred here in the past 18 months will “definitely be at least one template.”

The Boulder Technology Incubator actually had its beginnings in Longmont, in 1991. And while its organization later moved its headquarters to Boulder, its original offices at 1821 Lefthand Circle never closed down — though they were unoccupied.

That changed in 2002.

“One-and-a-half years ago the board of CTEK decided they were willing to rejuvenate Longmont,” said Susan Pratt, owner of Pratt Properties and a CTEK board member for a decade. Pratt has been chairwoman of the board the past two years. “Kevin (Cudney) and I sat down and went to work on how we could revitalize CTEK in Longmont.”

Cudney, also a CTEK board member, is an attorney who works for a Denver firm. He lives in Niwot and always has been a big Longmont booster, Pratt said.

“The entrepreneurs were clearly alive in Longmont, but the support system was not,” Pratt recalled. “Any community that’s willing to invest in their entrepreneurs ought to have some kind of mechanism where they can provide support.”

Pratt Properties always has donated the space in Longmont occupied by CTEK, both its former home at 1821 Lefthand Circle and its new headquarters at 2400 Trade Centre Ave., which it moved into this year.

Pratt said that going back to the days of BTI, she always has viewed her and her company’s involvement with the organization as a solid investment of both money and resources.

“This is the life of economic development,” said Pratt, referring to the start-up businesses CTEK fosters.

Cordova noted that 80 percent of the job growth in Colorado comes from small businesses.

The first step in CTEK’s Longmont revival was hiring Alex Sammoury to be executive director of CTEK-Longmont. Eighteen months later, seven companies call CTEK-Longmont home — three based at its Trade Centre headquarters and the rest elsewhere in the area.

“The reason for success around here? ‘A,’ a lot of the companies that I’ve been able to attract here have wanted to locate in Longmont,” Sammoury said. “And ‘B,’ the community support for the companies has been tremendous.”

It’s the latter that Cordova sees as critical to the success of the planned Venture Centers around the state.

“What they found is you can’t just put up a shingle — you really have to have this grass-roots community support,” Cordova said. “What Longmont has taught us is you can’t have a fully distributed model. You have to have local support.”

In other words, an entrepreneur might require assistance from the banking or legal communities, from a city government or from venture capitalists, and teleconferencing and “virtual meetings” only go so far. Access to a vast network of CTEK experts is one of the organization’s biggest strengths.

“How do we spread that expertise so that an entrepreneur in Durango feels supported?” said Cordova, adding that over the course of the summer, an answer to that question will be determined.

She said a formal announcement regarding CTEK’s future likely won’t come until its Entrepreneur’s Ball — the “E-Ball” — in October.

At last week’s meeting of the CTEK-Longmont committee, the group of about a dozen board members tossed around ideas for what it would call its new entity. Whatever the group settles on — Longmont Technology Incubator, Longmont Entrepreneurs Network and Longmont Entrepreneurial Support Group were three of the names suggested — the entity will do business as the Longmont Venture Center.

As the evolution of CTEK-Longmont continues, Pratt said, the good that comes out of what happens here will expand beyond the city’s borders, ultimately benefiting the economy of the entire state.

“I have grandsons,” she said. “I want them to have a future in Colorado.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.