Katasi and Scott Tibbitts: BEN and the Power of Dense Entrepreneurial Networks
“Lives will literally have been saved because of BEN.”
Scott Tibbitts is the CEO and Founder of Katasi, the startup company profiled in a recent New York Times article and Katie Couric feature segment Tibbitts has been a BEN Advisor since the inception of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network in Colorado in 2014. Tibbitts’ involvement with BEN demonstrates the power of the Network and the rapid scale-up growth that startups experience when a well-connected and dense entrepreneurial network is leveraged.
Involvement as an Advisor and Partner: Tibbitts’ became involved with the Network as an Advisor in 2014 by virtue of his extensive aerospace experience. Tibbitts was the Founder of Starsys Research Corporation, which he grew to $18 M in revenue, and which was acquired by Sierra Nevada Corporation in 2009. He was also a co-founder of the eSpace Center for Space Entrepreneurship. This connection led to a connection with Vicky Lea and her involvement with the WIRED Initiative for aerospace development within the Denver Metro Economic Development Corporation. Thus, Tibbitt’s Advisor role also helped bring aerospace industry Partners to BEN.
As an Advisor, Tibbitts connected with Blue Canyon Technologies, a young aerospace company designing and producing nanosatellites. Tibbitts originally connected with BCT via eSpace in 2008 and 2009. eSpace incubated BCT and provided $20,000 in grant money, as well as office space. This was a key connection that allowed BCT to get AFRL SBIR funding and secure their first substantial contracts. eSpace was integral in scaling BCT in its early days, and in securing WIRED funding and Congressional funding Via Jared Polis. This put BCT in the position to connect with BEN. In his capacity as an Advisor, Tibbitts then connected BCT to PlanetiQ, a company that became a strategic partner for BCT. This shows the power of BEN and the power of the Colorado spirit of “give before you get.”
Involvement of Katasi: After a year of involvement with the Network, Tibbitt’s approached BEN and asked if his Company might be able to leverage Network connections for his company. Katasi makes a product called Groove. Groove is a distracted driving device that works with any phone, and any carrier, to block text messages before they are even received. Therefore, by Tibbitts’ estimation, Katasi’s scale-up growth that is a direct result of his involvement with BEN, allowed his product to reach wider markets, and therefore save lives.
- BEN quickly made extremely high-level connections that directly benefitted Katasi:
- BEN staff connected Tibbitts’ to Marni Walden, Executive Vice President and President of Product Innovation and New Businesses at Verizon.
- BEN connected Tibbitts’ to the General Counsels at Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon via Dean Philip Weiser. These connections lead directly to CEO and other C-level connections at the major telecomm companies.
- BEN Advisor Brad Gray, who previously served as Vice President of Operation at AT&T, connected Tibbitts directly to T-Mobile at the C-level.
- BEN staff connected Tibbitts to BEN Advisor Monisha Merchant, previously at Senator Michael Bennet’s Office, and now independently consulting.
- Per Merchant’s request, BEN staff connected Katasi to Alex Bogusky to help discuss branding and other issues. Bogusky was a founding partner at Crispin Porter + Bogusky.
As a result, Tibbitts estimates that the key Telco partnerships necessary to deploy Groove, have been accelerated by 6 months or more, with product launch with a US Telco anchor partner now slated for mid 2016. Tibbitts estimates that a 10% adoption by US Telco subscribers will result in hundreds of lives saved per year. Based on that calculus, it can be argued that BEN involvement will translate to hundreds of lives saved.
Tibbitts’s story demonstrates the effectiveness of BEN when operated at its highest level. BEN is successful because it leverages a powerful network to generate a rising tide that lifts all ships. First, BEN unearths the most fundamental challenges and opportunities facing Colorado companies by using individualized communication between Advisors and Companies. Second, BEN leverages its ever-expanding network of high-level Advisors who open their tremendous personal networks and provide great depth of industry experience. These people are willing to engage and support the growing Colorado Gazelles as a testament to the “give before you get” mentality prevalent in the Colorado entrepreneurial community.
Tibbitts’ involvement as an Advisor led to collateral involvement of his associated Partner organizations, and even his growing company. This type of permeable, flexible Network is exactly the type of Network that produces Colorado success stories. Not only has the entrepreneurial ecosystem become denser, but to Tibbitts’ initial point, lives have quite literally been saved because of Tibbitts’ and Katasi’s involvement with BEN as both an Advisor and a Company.