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12/5/2004

Longmont becomes model for statewide Venture Centers

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — The evolution of CTEK — now CTEK Venture Centers — continued this week, with Longmont leading the way.

The organization that has been known as CTEK-Longmont for the past two years will soon be known as the Longmont Venture Center — the first in the state to sign a charter membership agreement with the new CTEK Venture Centers.

The new Longmont Venture Center’s mission won’t change much — it will continue to offer a place where entrepreneurs can go to get their young companies started and growing, and the companies will continue to have access to all of the support systems that were in place before. But the agreement means that Longmont will now have much more independence and control over its own direction.

“The basics have been developed through the trials and tribulations we’ve been through,” said Alex Sammoury, executive director of the Longmont Venture Center. “The model may be tweaked depending on community need. The nice thing about this now is each community can customize its services to meet the local needs.”

Sammoury, who has run CTEK-Longmont since it was restarted two years ago, said the Longmont board of directors has formed a new legal entity doing business as the Longmont Venture Center.

Sammoury will answer to the Longmont board, which will consist of local business leaders Susan Pratt, who is also co-chair of statewide CTEK Venture Centers board; Paul Ray; Van Stow; and Kevin Cudney.

The shift to forming individual venture centers is something CTEK President Lu Cordova has been working toward for some time.

Her goal has long been to make the organization more of a statewide entity.

This past summer CTEK and Colorado Venture Centers — another business incubator — entered into a “strategic combination.”

In effect, the two merged, which allowed the new entity to assume 501(c)3 nonprofit status. CTEK itself was a nonprofit, but never had 501(c)3 designation.

That is important, Cordova said, because it allows the organization to accept not only individual and corporate donations, but also to have access to any local, state or federal grants that are available to help entrepreneurs.

As venture centers spring up around the state, they will do as Longmont has done — sign licensing agreements with CTEK Venture Centers.

The agreement gives the licensees the right to use the CTEK Venture Centers logo and brand, but perhaps most importantly the individual venture centers will have access to the hundreds of advisers that CTEK Venture Centers has available statewide.

The venture centers themselves will be run by their own, independent boards, making decisions — within the guidelines of the licensing agreement — that are most beneficial to each individual community.

“That was the whole point of this partnership (with Colorado Venture Centers) — can we help entrepreneurs in a way that is more cost-efficient with a much higher level of service?” Cordova said.

The Longmont Venture Center has five member companies, and Sammoury said he’ll need an average of 15 to be self-sustaining.

In the meantime, CTEK VCs will continue to provide financial support as needed, and Sammoury will no longer have to worry about raising funds himself.

One of Sammoury’s clients is Eric Johnson, whose sixth startup is a company called AnswerOn. The company develops technology that helps predict customer behavior patters.

Ironically, Johnson, with one of his earlier companies, was the first graduate of the Boulder Technology Incubator many years ago. Though he’s still a member of the Longmont center, he has since moved into his own building, occupying 5,000 square feet on Kansas Avenue.

“One of the prerequisites of these things to be successful is the community (is) you have to be in a community that sees the value in it, one that sees the benefit of making the investment now for the good things that will come later,” Johnson said.

Johnson said it says a lot for the Longmont area that the first venture center in the state is located here.

“People here in Longmont — I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I travel all over the United States, and all over the world, and people talk about entrepreneurship here. People in Longmont really have that entrepreneurial spirit.”

The formation of the Longmont Venture Center comes at a time when CTEK Venture Centers is relocating its offices to the World Trade Center in Denver, becoming part of what Cordova referred to as the “Advance Colorado Center.” CTEK VC will be bunched with a group of agencies associated with economic development and overseen by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Two independent venture centers are also planned for Denver, Cordova said, adding that there will likely be one in Boulder at some point. But Longmont is the first.

“Longmont really evolved into something very strong, so Longmont became not just an experiment but the template,” said Cordova. “This is kind of a big deal — should we have a party? Should we bring champagne, or what?”

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