5 Tips from Colorado Aerospace Startups

Government contracts and other words of wisdom revealed at Denver Startup Week

Miguel Ayala, CEO of Exodus Space Corporation sits attentively, listening to a dialogue on stage. Tightly gripping blue and white pamphlets, he is about to stand up and announce his company during the panel's question-and-answer session. Ayala is in the right place. Directly behind him sits Vicky Lea, director of Aerospace & Aviation at Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. Her job entails helping startups in aerospace move to Colorado, and that is precisely what Ayala is trying to do.


The best connections, it seems, are made in person.

At "The Role of Aerospace Startups in the Innovation Ecosystem," event, many real connections were made. If you missed out on the lively panel and professional mingling thereafter, you're in luck. Here are a few key takeaways from the program:


Instead, take the easy path. Startups should reach out to scales businesses for advice. Maureen O'Brien, CEO of Oakman Aerospace Inc., said "Look to team up with those other scaled up companies … those can be your best friends, too." O'Brien talked about how mature companies have already traveled the treacherous path of ground-up business-building and are typically willing to share experiences and advice. As O'Brien stated, "A high tide raises all boats."


"Sometimes, the government can be the best partner," O'Brien said. She added that regardless of the business specifics or technology employed, if you're doing something unique, the government may be interested. The private sector can be fruitful, but if you have a good idea, look to government programs and contracts to help your cause.


"When you accept a government contact, you go down a particular road," Kay Sears, vice president of strategy and business development for Lockheed Martin, told the crowd. She commented on how difficult it can be to maintain business in the private sector while balancing the requirements of a government contract. "It's hard to be on both roads," she said.


"It could take 12 months to put a contract in place after you have been awarded it," said Bradley Cheetham, president and CEO of Advanced Space. It's important to understand that from the get-go. The last thing a business needs is to have financial delays while waiting on government deadlines.


Lea specializes in relocating small businesses to Colorado. Indeed, the state is ranked No. 3 in National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with prime contract award totaling $1.8 billion. Also, Colorado has eight major contractors in the state: Ball Aerospace, The Boeing Company, Harris Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Sierra Nevada Corporation and United Launch Alliance. This means the state has become a key player in the aerospace industry.

When asked, Cheetham shared one final piece of advice on the biggest mistakes a company can make: "A frequent mistake is under-appreciating the importance of non-technical considerations in the growth of [a] company." Look to strengthen your company's infrastructure from the inside-out. "Most companies focus heavily on technology, which is necessary, but not, by itself, sufficient for company success," Cheetham says.

Shawn Wahlmeier is a journalism student at Colorado State University and veteran of the United States Air Force. He participated in a partnership between the University and ColoradoBiz magazine that brought students from Fort Collins to Denver Startup Week 2018. 

Categories: Management & Leadership