Creation of collaborative space, labs for research and development, a cyber and space operations center and a classified facility are just a few plans in motion at the privately funded Catalyst Campus, designed to increase community collaboration and local business and job growth, while also putting Colorado Springs on the map in aerospace and defense.
With a grand opening ceremony targeted for mid-July and most areas to be operational in August, The O’Neil Group hopes its advancements at the campus increase industry and military partnerships to advance technology, and form public-private partnerships to attract new businesses, contracts and grants to Colorado Springs.
“We like to call it economic gardening,” said Ingrid Richter, economic development director for The O’Neil Group. “We’re not going out and attracting the largest to come here — we’re either buying and moving companies here or starting new ones and growing the them organically.”
The group plans to use its open office area as a platform for small aerospace and defense industry startups, allowing them to collaborate and learn how to effectively grow their business.
With industry competition becoming international, local companies need to collaborate and develop a mindset of “co-opetition,” Richter said, creating industry clusters by getting like-minded people together in a specific location.
“It used to be called innovation clusters,” she said. “The government is very interested in helping finance industry-cluster development [that is] specific to [the Department of Defense].”
Kevin O’Neil, founder of The O’Neil Group, has invested more than $30 million downtown since 2008, including the purchase of Braxton Technologies. Now The O’Neil Group owns about five aerospace and defense businesses, and roughly 30 other companies, including lighting, maintenance supply and medical waste firms.
In October 2014, O’Neil bought the former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad depot, specifically with the vision of creating Catalyst Campus.
“We think by benefiting the community with what we’re doing here, it will significantly grow [the economy in] Southern Colorado,” Richter said.
The O’Neil Group plans to renovate an area for accounting and legal support services and is considering investing about $750,000 of private money to open a bistro-style restaurant at the campus, along with a patio and outside fire pits.
“We’ve had an overwhelming demand for private offices, so we might just add more of those,” said Jeremy Shirley, community manager for Catalyst Campus. “It’s still being decided.”
The campus currently includes more than 100,000 square feet of office space and about 450 parking spaces, with dentists, doctors and acupuncturists on-site.
Careers Pathway program
A career placement office is also being developed at Catalyst Campus to assist companies in finding staff for contracts, filling positions and allowing job seekers to submit their resumés.
The O’Neil Group also has a Catalyst Careers Pathway program in mind to expose people to different industries.
“The idea is to put together a program that encompasses a career pathway alignment for people,” Richter said. “The intent would be to give them the opportunity to discover different sectors, such as advanced manufacturing in cybersecurity and software programming in satellite operations. We’ve already started putting curriculum together for the discovery phase.”
The campus will provide industry certificate training, run by two business partners of The O’Neil Group, beginning with cybersecurity and programming languages training, according to Richter.
Two nonprofits operated by The O’Neil Group from the campus are the Southern Colorado Technology Alliance and Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization.
SCTA is a 501(c)6 catering to aerospace and defense, homeland security, advanced manufacturing, electronics and information technology. About 15 companies are currently a part of the organization and four are working on a combined proposal to the Air Force Research Laboratory, Richter said.
“That’s the whole point of what we’re trying to do — give them networking and business growth opportunities,” she said. “We want to help small companies team, forming teaming opportunities and arrangements, and business development.”
CTRAC is a research-and-development nonprofit, targeting cybersecurity, satellite operations and command and control. Former CEO of Braxton Technologies, Frank Backes is now president of CTRAC.
The organization is working with the Air Force Academy to help stand up its Cyber Innovation Center and move military technologies from the lab to the commercial sector.
“This organization has the potential to manage over $100 million of contracts within probably the first 12 months of the campus being open,” Richter said. “That’s real economic development for Colorado Springs because all those companies are Colorado Springs-based.”
Braxton holds the contract that flies the GPS satellite constellation for the Air Force Satellite Control Network, Richter noted.
“With the technology they’ve developed, what other industries can that be diversified into?” she asked. “It started with basic research and contracts that grew out of that. In the research lab, we have about $90- to $100-million in contracts, involving about 14 to 15 companies working on these projects. Let’s replicate this and have real startups and real money coming into this town.”
The secured data center will open in August, and will include a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. The secure space will give companies the opportunity to bid on classified work, without having to invest in the workspace necessary to conduct classified conversations and work.
“That is the No. 1 thing we hear from companies — ‘I have a clearance but I can’t bid on the work because I don’t have anywhere to do it,’” Richter said.
The campus is in contact with a few agencies to sponsor the SCIF. Companies interested in working at the facility will go through those sponsoring agencies to receive the necessary authorization to use the SCIF.
The Cyber and Space Operations Center received a $750,000 grant from the Colorado Economic Development Commission and is slated for completion in August.
“It will bring companies in to test against the environment for satellite and other non-terrestrial devices,” O’Neil told the Business Journal in December. “Colorado Springs companies should grow from the center; however, there is no direct contract tied to it. It’s more of a research-and-development and operational-testing lab for satellites.”