USAFA, CC, PPCC and UCCS to create center for innovation and entrepreneurism

Colorado Springs’ four largest institutions of higher learning, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College and UCCS announced April 24 a plan to collaborate to create a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurism.

From left:  Air Force Lt. General Michelle Johnson, Chancellor Pam Shockley Zalabak, President Jill Tiefenthaler, President Lance Bolton
From left: Air Force Lt. General Michelle Johnson, Chancellor Pam Shockley Zalabak, President Jill Tiefenthaler, President Lance Bolton

The leaders of the four institutions made the announcement at a lunch forum sponsored by the UCCS Center for the Study of Government and the Individual at the Colorado Springs Country Club.

The four college leaders, USAFA Lt. General Michelle Johnson, CC President Jill Tiefenthaler, PPCC President Lance Bolton and UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, unveiled this new concept, answered questions and outlined the goal of the project.

The panel explained this new Center of Innovation will serve the interests of the region’s brightest graduates by easing the transition from college to the marketplace. The Center will also serve the interests of the local community by tapping into the vibrancy, creativity and rich potential of graduates so they ultimately choose to stay in Colorado Springs, base their work in the region and contribute to the community’s growth and enrichment.

“This effort represents unprecedented collaboration and will provide the next stage of support for our young alumni who leave our institutions ready to take on the world,” said Bolton. “It will infuse a vibrant, creative and bold culture into the Colorado Springs community.”

The four institutions have worked together and partnered for years, and in recent months began discussing how to work together to best retain the brightest young graduates in the Pikes Peak Region.

“So many of our graduates are young professionals who start their own businesses,” Tiefenthaler said. “But upon graduation they talk about a lack of community innovation and in turn move to cities that provide more support and amenities. This new venture will be a space to help nurture alumni and ultimately keep them here.”

Although development of the Center is in its earliest stages, the four leaders have a clear idea of how it will live and work. They envision a physical center, perhaps located downtown, that will include space for working, collaborating, teaching, meeting and mentoring. Each institution will hold equal footing in the governance and operations of the Center and each will be responsible for selecting top aspiring entrepreneur graduates. The Center will also equip these aspiring entrepreneurs with the tools, space and mentors, often alumni of the four institutions, to pursue their goals and ambitions.

“We are excited about being a part of this and it’s an honor for us to find ways to bridge these barriers for the betterment of our community,” Johnson said.

Currently there are no other colleges and institutions that have come together in such a way. Similar models can be found, but this would be the first of its kind. In fact, this new idea has attracted the attention of the El Pomar Foundation, which has come forward to support, partner and invest in this concept. El Pomar will provide fellows to help with and work on the project. The fellows will travel across the country to visit similar centers and identify the common characteristics that make them successful.

“This is a dynamic opportunity and the first of its kind. We must work together across disciplinary lines and with the community,” Shockley-Zalabak said.

Moving forward, the intuitions, along with community partners and El Pomar, will conduct research, identify national models and elements for success, interview young local entrepreneurs and investigate funding models.

–Allison Swickard, Pikes Peak Community College

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