Program geared to help firms grow

If you want to understand the changing face of economic development in Boulder County, look no further than Stratom Inc., an engineering company in Boulder that’s developing a robotic vehicle.
Stratom has received a $1.7 million contract from the U.S. Air Force and a separate $750,000 contract with the U.S. Marine Corps to develop an unmanned, robotic vehicle that can load cargo from a warehouse onto an aircraft or a ship, said Mark Gordon, company president.

In the future, Stratom wants to win commercial contracts from companies that want to buy the vehicle, Gordon said.

That’s where Sharon King comes in. King, executive director of the Boulder Small Business Development Center, is heading up a new, $400,000, three-year, state-funded pilot program that’s designed to help 20 established companies in Colorado grow bigger. She’ll continue in her current job as well.

The state program — SBDC Advanced — gives companies the tools to find potential new customers and markets quickly, with resources such as national geographical information system, or GIS, mapping and business database information, King said. The program comes under the umbrella of the Colorado SBDC Network in Denver, which has a $3.5 million annual budget made up of state and federal funds.
Gordon said he needs the market research and database help, since he has a “high-level” idea of what Stratom’s potential customer base could be, but no details. Distribution centers such as those operated by Walmart, and factory warehouses are potential customers for Stratom in the future, Gordon believes.

“We have a lot of research to do,” Gordon said. “I want to do a deep dive into what the market is.”
Companies chosen to participate in the SBDC program in the next three years will each pay a $750 fee, which will pay for the database subscription information, King said. Companies must be between six and 99 employees and annual revenue between $500,000 and $50 million. Stratom has 25 employees and annual revenue of $3 million to $4 million, Gordon said.

The idea of the new program is to give mid-level companies a boost, King said.

“What we’re trying to do is help these businesses create more jobs, and grow faster,” King said.

Because the program is so new, the companies chosen to participate in the first round have not been formally announced. But any Colorado company can apply to the program if it meets the employee and revenue parameters, said Kelly Manning, director of the Colorado SBDC Network.

Manning expects a wide variety of applicants, from high-technology companies to service-industry business such as restaurants, car dealerships and health-care companies.

Companies can apply to the SBDC Advanced program at the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade at www.coloradosbdc.org/consulting/sbdcadvanced.

Many of the companies eligible to apply for the new program are likely to be ones that graduate from the Colorado Emerging Ventures program, an SBDC program designed to help startup companies with high-growth potential, King said. The Emerging Ventures program this year received a $30,000 grant from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to put on programming for such companies, including a monthly breakfast series in Boulder County, King said.

Boulder SBDC workers were busy before taking on the new program work, King said. They worked with 530 companies last year. SBDC workers consulted with client companies for 1,500 hours in 2013. They also put on 53 workshops for 750 attendees, King said.

Client companies created 185 jobs in 2013. Those same companies had increased sales of $4.7 million in 2013 from the year before, King said. About $1.8 million in contracts were awarded to the companies.

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