October 2014 Update

Momentum accelerates!

(Breaking;  tremendous congrats to Dan Caruso and $ZAYO for their successful IPO today! )

We’re having a terrific time meeting and connecting great entrepreneurs and scale-up Advisors in Colorado with great Companies.

We now have 21 companies formally in the network (more on that below) and 150 Advisors committed to working with each other and the great firms we’re identifying to help the ecosystem grow.

We’ve made a few thousand direct and indirect new connections between Advisors; Advisors and Companies; and both with important external constituents since we formally started at the end of June.

We’ve had the chance to promote BEN at a large number of events, including featured roles at Denver StartUp Week, the Colorado Economic Development Council's ‘Drive Lead Succeed’ Conference, the Digital Health Venture Showcase, and an upcoming event at the Governor’s Mansion later this month which we’re chairing for about 100 CEOs and Founders of Colorado’s Companies to Watch. Holland and Hart kindly hosted our first Partner’s Council meeting, and we had a great time in Longmont at the Farm to Table dinner with about 80 Companies and Advisors.  Brad Feld, Phil Weiser and I enjoyed bragging about BEN at a small dinner at Blackstone HQ in NYC a couple of weeks ago with a terrific group including Steve Case and Senator Jon Tester of Montana.

We’re thrilled to welcome Hannah Loudin and Dave DiGiacomo as full time permanent staff, too.  Hannah keeps us all on track with everything and is La Reine of Events. She is a DU grad. Dave is on point for our relationships with all the Companies in the network and graduated this year with a JD/MBA from CU – and just passed the bar (woohoo!).

Mission

The program’s mission is to identify, promote, assist, and connect Colorado’s Gazelles, those up-and coming firms with clear prospects to become tent-pole successes in Tech, Health, Energy, Aerospace, and Natural Foods and Products.

Advisors

Advisors are our most successful serial entrepreneurs as well as those with significant scale-up industry skill – and those with great networks that can be helpful to the project of scaling up more great Colorado Companies.

Companies

We are constantly looking for and talking to Colorado companies that have clear break-out/scaling potential in the five industry categories of Tech, Health, Energy, Aerospace, and Natural Foods/Products.  We’re using a wide range of published data sources but our best introductions always come from folks involved in the network; our Partners, our Advisors, and founders and entrepreneurs with the Companies.

We have a database of about 500 companies; have met with about 150 directly; and have about 70 or so highly qualified leads we’ll be looking to introduce to Advisors via upcoming Sessions.

We are on our way to 30 Companies in the Network by year-end, and have a working thesis that we can be working with about 50 Companies simultaneously at maturity.

Companies fall into one of three categories post-Session (more on the Engagement Model below):

Gazelle:  These are Colorado’s clear next big successes; firms with substance and momentum that are highly likely to emerge in the coming very few years as large IPOs or exits, with substantial revenue, valuation and/or employment.

Prospective Gazelle: These are our great state’s next next big successes; those firms that have all the elements to become Gazelles but have more work to do/ and a little longer runway to get there. 

To-Watch:  BEN Companies To-Watch are firms which exhibit characteristics (size, growth, product/marketing positioning, team) that could put them on Gazelle trajectory, but which have some substantive decisions or goals to achieve before it will be clear they’re on the path to true Gazelle-dom.

The 21 firms which have been to Sessions to-date fall into the following categories:

Note; one of the most critical ways you can help the project is to introduce us to those companies that you feel are our prospective and current gazelles.  A core BEN mission is to identify and celebrate ALL of those great firms in our five industry verticals.  The list above is just a starting-point!

The Engagement Model -- Sessions

As many of you know, a primary step in the Engagement Model for BEN is to have the founders/CEOs of qualified companies meet with up to 20 advisors in person for an hour each.  We’ve had 21 companies in session to-date, and expect to have at least 30 by the end of the year. 

We use those sessions to understand the Company’s status and story so that the full network can Promote the firm aggressively; to assess the specific strategic and tactical constraints to scaling that the firm will be confronting so that the network can Assist; and to identify Teams of advisors who have a direct interest in driving connections for the company going-forward. 

Engagement Model – BEN PACE

The Network’s role for Companies is the BEN PACE -- Promote, Assist, Connect and Engage via an advisory team.

A more detailed outline of some of the ways the Network achieves these aims is here.

Some of the PACE elements are common across all companies in the network.  For example, common Promotional efforts include one-page summaries for the full network about the Company: common Connections include digital private connections for all the C-Suite execs for all BEN Companies to enhance grassroots problem-solving. However, the specific Assistance, and the particular Engagement model will vary depending on the Company’s stage of development and needs.

Some of the PACE elements are unique to different groups.  For example, Senator Bennet has graciously agreed to join the CEOs of BEN Gazelle companies for a small, substantive quarterly dinner throughout 2015. 

Engagement can vary widely for Gazelles and Prospective Gazelles, from a direct individual mentor on-point for the company coordinating BEN networks and advising a few hours a week, to a small team of BEN Advisors meeting quarterly with the firm’s founders/CEO.

Advisors working with companies report back monthly to the network at an in-person working Happy Hour.

For BEN Companies in the To Watch category, a specific individual Advisor is on point to keep up to date on a more occasional basis as the firm evolves.  

We hope to see Companies move through stages in BEN -- and become Alumnae.  (Zayo and Viawest are honorary alumnae, and representative of the type of great scale-up success we hope to help foster).

Successes

We’re very grateful for all the great things Advisors have done since we started the project – with each other and on behalf of BEN Companies.  Frankly, we’re only keeping track of a small portion of those activities and connections.  Having connected a lot of great people with each other and great companies, unpredictable serendipity has predictably ensued, to the great benefit of our eco-system. 

We know some of the good things accomplished, though; here are a few examples

1.       A Gazelle in the oil and gas industry was awarded a package of state and local incentives that will significantly increase the odds this firm remains headquartered in Denver (and not in Texas ;-))

a.       We are using the pattern developed through this success with two other Gazelles

2.       An Advisor was hired by a Prospective Gazelle  in the Tech industry to become their SVP EMEA – and has subsequently moved to Europe.  That firm has also worked closely with the German CEO of a BEN-connected company to establish two critical German partnerships.

3.       A fast-rising To Watch firm that crosses the Tech/Natural Products categories is close to completing their first financing round, with BEN guidance.

4.       BEN has connected over 30 companies to the Colorado Impact Fund, the growth-stage equity fund launched late June in Colorado, for formal funding consideration.

5.       BEN Advisors are working with the Harvard Business School on a prospective case study on a BEN Prospective Gazelle in Health.  That firm has had a number of advisors pitch in to assist on a wide range of matters.

6.       A BEN Prospective Gazelle in Tech is working closely with BEN on changing out some key management and on critical marketing re-positioning

7.       Governor Hickenlooper directly promoted one BEN To-Watch pharmaceutical firm (Health) at a substantive event orchestrated by the Network

8.       BEN Advisors with sales scaling expertise are working closely with a To-Watch firm (Agro-Tech) as they start to tackle that critical issue globally

We make it a point to specifically assist every company we initially meet in any way we can.  We’ve made hundreds of connections for companies that don’t qualify for BEN.

 We are just getting started with many of these engagements – much more to do!

How Can You Help?

1.       Suggest Gazelles and Prospective Gazelles to the program (link)

2.       Shout from the rooftops to your networks about BEN Companies – particularly our Gazelles and Prospective Gazelles.  Every one of our already-embraced Gazelles would be huge success stories known throughout Silicon Valley if they were located there – let’s all do everything we can to get the word out about them from here!

3.       Let us know if you are interested in helping any of the BEN companies – and please, be specific!  Email me directly at jbh@newsgator.com with those suggestions, or contact us at  coloradoblackstone@gmail.com .  Many of these companies have specific needs that we’ll communicate to you – direct responses on those are always helpful.

4.       Attend events.  We have a robust calendar ahead and you’ll be directly invited to many upcoming activities.  We’d love to see you there and make five or ten new connections for you!

Thank you for all you do for Colorado!

JB Holston

BEN ColoradoComment