May 17, 2010 9:59 PM by Andy Koen
The story behind the Business Revitalization and Innovation Competition and its inaugural winner brings together an unlikely cast of characters.
Sponsored by the El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization, the contest is designed to help small, local businesses to re-invent themselves and to provide networking opportunities to UCCS business students.
Aspire Biotech is just such a company, and UCCS senior Jeremy George is just such a student.
Formed in 2001, Aspire has a staff of 8 employees, counting their summer intern. They primarily do research and development work for large corporate clients. When the economy dried up two years, their corporate contracts did as well.
"Your couple of major customers have gone away and 80 percent of your revenues have gone away and that's when we started thinking like, okay, we need to have more of an evergreen revenue stream," explained president Ian Askill, Ph.D.
Aspire needed to develop a new product line. The trouble was, Askill and his team are scientists and marketing isn't their strong suit. In fact, their only experience in selling anything came by accident.
Early on they developed a product that was later branded as NecroSeal. It is basically high-strength glue that is used hold together cadavers once their organs have been harvested.
Needless to say, it's a pretty specialized product. So, when their sole buyer went bankrupt, Aspire was "stuck" with the entire extra inventory.
"We had somewhere in the region of $125,000 worth of dead guy glue and no where to sell it, no idea how to sell it," Askill recalled.
The months that followed were a crash course in marketing. The company essentially grew its customer base via word of mouth.
The economic downturn highlighted Aspire's need to expand its business. But Askill and his team didn't want to repeat the experience of trying to "sell" dead guy glue on the market.
"We ran kicking and screaming away from the concept of selling our own products," Askill said.
So, they entered to contest and met with UCCS marketing student Jeremy George.
"I've been kind of interested in the biomedical fields and just the way that they needed a marketing person, so I thought that matched perfectly," Jeremy explained.
Askill and his team already had a product in mind for the contest; another adhesive, like dead guy glue, but one that works as a quick and effective bandage. They plan to sell the in the sports medicine market.
"I think the key is, with a product like this, it has a lot of applications, the key is finding the target market and then focusing down on that market and not trying to spread it out be all things to everyone," Jeremy said.
The strategy worked, and Aspire won the contest and the $15,000 in start up money. Jeremy also landed his first job as the company's first marketing director, even though he still has a year of school to finish.
"I've learned a lot through this process, I think it's an excellent opportunity to apply classroom experience."
Aspire isn't the only one to walk away from the contest with start up money.
Runner up, Hon-Ac Auto East won $10,000 which will be used to help them apply for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Enviornmental Design) Certification of their new auto repair shop on Powers Boulevard. It will also be used to pay for a survey to find what local women want in a repair shop.
Third place and a $5,000 grant were awarded to Access 2 Sign Language, a sing language interpreting service.