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Startups taking Colorado by storm

Business confidence is very high in in Colorado as economic growth surges, cost of living remains affordable, and young entrepreneurs move to the state. Historically dominated by the telecoms and oil & gas industries, the state has witnessed a burgeoning of new tech startups the past few years, particularly in technology.

“I believe the University of Denver can become the front-range of what Stanford is to Silicon Valley. There’s no reason we can’t do that,” said Dean JB Holston of the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Denver.

Holston, who joined the university after 25 years working as a senior executive in Fortune 500 companies and heading a venture capital firm, pointed out that 70% of the people who moved to the Denver area the last few years identified themselves as entrepreneurs and that the University of Denver wants to be a destination and a collaborative community for entrepreneurship and innovation.

“We want to raise the profile of Colorado internationally and drive these connections. There are a lot more technology-oriented, digital and information technology, and telecommunications firms moving more people here, with our wide base of talent,” he said.

As part of its initiative to build an innovation community, the University of Denver is holding a Global Summit on Cyber Security in April.

With Modular Robotics Founder and CEO Eric Schweikardt and Systems Engineering and Support Head Jonathan Moyes

One such example of a local successful startup is Boulder-based Modular Robotics, founded in 2007 by Eric Schweikardt, who developed Cubelets, motorized robot blocks that can be joined together to build bigger robots.

“In general, Americans think of robotics as a dystopian, large humanoid, industrial automaton that’s going to take their jobs,. And that’s depressing. But, I think they’re a continuation of technology. I want to change the notion of what robotics is,” Schweikardt said.

Aside from Cubelets, which also feature sensors and other functions, Modular Robotics also makes MOSS, another line of robotic toys aimed at children aged eight years and above.

Targeting schools and consumers in the United States, Modular Robotics markets its two product lines as toys that will inspire creativity in children and help them become better thinkers.

“We have no plans of international marketing just yet. But there is talk for international expansion to Japan, among other maybe by 2017. We will need to partner with a Japanese company to help us with the culture and integrate into the market,” Schweikardt said.

With Agribotix Founder and Chief Technology Officer Tom McKinnon and CEO Lou Faust

Meanwhile, Tom McKinnon, founder and chief technology officer of Agribotix, has seen a growing trend among young farmers to use the latest technology to increase efficiency and improve their profit margins. The company provides agricultural drones and drone-enabled data processing analytics services for the growing segment of U.S. farmers who employ precision agriculture practices.

Agribotix does around 50% of its business internationally. Through a joint venture in Panama – the company sells its drone-enabled agricultural intelligence solutions across six countries in Latin America, including Brazil. It also has cutomers in Australia, New Zealand and Africa.

“In five years, I think flight hardware in drones will be totally commoditized and manufactured at low costs. By then, we will thrive on providing agricultural data processing services that support precision equipment and give farmers the ability to make real-time decisions in the field that will improve crop yields and reduce their costs,” McKinnon said.

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Southwest USA 2016 was prepared for and originally printed in The Japan Times Newspaper.

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