December 5, 2017

Experts from Colorado Springs’ small business and startup development community gave practical advice on starting a business — and navigating the rocky side of entrepreneurship — at an event at UCCS Dec. 4.

Hosted by the UCCS Entrepreneurship Club, the panel included Matthew Metzger, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at UCCS; Aikta Marcoulier, director of the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center; Michelle Parvinrouh, executive director of Peak Startup; Jacob Eichengreen, executive director of the QUAD Innovation Partnership; and Chris Franz, long-time high tech entrepreneur and former president of Peak Startup.

Before diving into starting a business, the best thing young entrepreneurs can do is join an existing startup, Franz told students and members of the public.

“We get folks coming out of high school and college all the time who are convinced they’re going to launch the next Google,” Franz said. “Not to be negative, but it’s really hard. I have been encouraging people for a long time to go join a startup instead of doing a startup.

“It’s so easy. We have 160 in Colorado Springs, there’s more than 3,000 in the state. There are many cool, awesome companies you can join for a year or two and learn a whole heck of a lot in the startup ecosystem.”

For students looking to take over a family business or go into the food industry, for example, Marcoulier suggests working in the industry before starting your own venture.

“If you want to work in your dad’s business and grow it — go work in that industry for a while. It’s the best education you can get,” she said. “If you want to start something in that same industry, you’ll have all that knowledge from being in it for a while.”

Not only should new entrepreneurs seek experience in a startup or small business, they should also make sure they have a support system, all members of the panel agreed.

“You need that network — this is hard, man,” Franz said. “You will get to experience higher highs and lower lows than the average human. When it’s the lower lows, it’s bad.

“You need a network. They don’t have to be super close friends, they don’t have to be family. They just have to be people that understand, and I understand. These folks will understand. Come talk to them, come meet with your network, come talk to folks.”

Eichengreen added that having a network is important for entrepreneurs’ mental health.

“You’re blazing a path that nobody’s ever done before,” Eichengreen said. “Many of the friends you’ve known your entire life will not understand … [and] your parents may reject what you’re doing depending on what type of background you come from.

“Be sure that you equip yourself with that network of people who get it and understand and care about you as a human being, or at least know where those people are.”

Panel members encouraged attendees to use the resources offered by Peak Startup, the SBDC, UCCS and other community networking groups and events.

Editor’s note: Event organizers included Lee Haider, president of the UCCS Entrepreneurship Club; Lauren Thorpe, vice president of the UCCS Entrepreneurship Club and Elijah Salberg, director of marketing for the university’s Entrepreneurship Club.