Estes Park’s EDC to mull shape of incubator

ESTES PARK — The Estes Park Economic Development Commission’s board of directors will vote Thursday on a course to follow to set up a business incubator for the Estes Valley.

The board decision follows a pair of public meetings last week at which Austin, Texas-based ATP Management unveiled the blueprint it has been formulating based on suggestions from Estes Park-area businesses and residents. The idea was born in the wake of the September 2013 deluge and flood, when a recommendation for an economic development strategy included looking at an incubator as part of a broader strategy around job creation and retention, as well as how to generate a more stable economy in a tourist town that bustles in summer but faces months of doldrums in winter.

“We didn’t start from an assumption about what this would look like,” said Jon Nicholas, president and chief executive of the Estes Park Economic Development Corp., which hired the consultant. “But it’s been a very productive week for us. We felt like we have a direction and an opportunity here.”

Planning for the business incubator has focused on developing a sustainable program that benefits both existing Estes Park businesses that wish to expand and startups or scale-ups that need services and expertise aimed at larger expansion. Kyle Cox, managing director of the ATP Fund, has served as project manager, and Mike Freeman, chief executive of the Fort Collins-based Innosphere business incubator, has been part of the project team.

“The Innosphere part of the partnership has been focused on startups,” Nicholas said in an interview with BizWest on Monday. Noting that the EDC already has partnerships with the Larimer County’s Small Business Development Center and workforce training center as well as startup and angel-investor meetups, he added that “we want to continue to promote and expand those programs as well.

“To do an incubator effectively we’d like to partner with the Innosphere,” he said, adding that that’s part of what the board will need to decide.

“The recommendation on the feasibility of it will be presented to the EDC board on Thursday,” Freeman said. “Then it will have to make a decision about which way it wants to go. Assuming they want to collaborate with Innosphere, then I’d present it to the Innosphere board for their approval. But first it’s up to the EDC board to make a decision.”

Among the consultant’s findings was the need for more support for existing businesses in the Estes Valley as well as seeking and supporting technology companies with higher growth potential and those with more opportunities to scale, Freeman said. It was recommended that the incubator be formed first not through bricks and mortar but through service to businesses.

“The EDC will either look to a partner or look within,” Freeman said. “The recommendation would be to try to pursue a partnership first; that’s the quickest and easier route. But if that’s not successful we’ve given them a road map about how to do that from within the community.”

The incubator project is being funded with the third and final portion of a financial award to the town and the Estes Park EDC from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.