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Paso Del Norte Venture Competition widens scope

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Paso Del Norte Venture Competition widens scope – El Paso Times 3-9-13

Paso Del Norte Venture Competition widens scope
By Paula Monarez Diaz \ El Paso Times Posted: 03/09/2013 12:00:00 AM MST

Teams competed last year in the Paso Del Norte Venture Competition. For the first time, private startups will join the competition.

The Paso Del Norte Venture Competition, an event that offers people the opportunity to create or grow a startup company, has expanded its focus this year.

The event, held at UTEP’s Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce this weekend, has opened its doors to private startups for the first time. In the past, only university students participated. “We are excited to be hosting the 2013 Paso Del Norte Venture Competition,” said Sacnite Ramos, UTEP’s assistant director of the Undergraduate Programs for the College of Business Administration, in an email. “This venture competition gives local students and entrepreneurs the opportunity to create or grow a startup company, and provides professional direction and mentorship for their venture.”

This is the fifth annual competition to be held UTEP, said Nancy Lowery, assistant director of the Hub of Human Innovation, a competition sponsor. “We have nine teams from universities in the El Paso, Ciudad Juárez and Las Cruces region,” Lowery said in an email.

“There will be 13 local companies participating in the PDNVC.” Participants from UTEP, New Mexico State University and the Instituto Tecnológico Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (Tec de Monterrey) have been working for five months on their plans, which involve forecasting, market research and financial cash flows. Their subjects include mobile wellness technologies, water recycling, cloud-based collaborative platforms, cyber and energy security, the next generation of interactive advertising, solar technology and green construction materials, said Aaron Cervantes Herrera, coordinator of the Loya

The competition is a platform for entrepreneurial minds to find new ways to become active players in the regional economy. Panels of judges, which include bankers, investors and entrepreneurs, will pick the winner. All presentations will be in the Business Administration Building.

The interaction between the teams and the judges is similar to that on the popular ABC reality show “Shark Tank,” where a panel of successful entrepreneurs consider investing in startup companies, he said. However, in the competition, the judges will provide professional direction and mentorship. “The goal of the competition is to improve the entrepreneurial spirit and enhance our region’s economy,” Herrera said in an email. “Additionally, we try to complement classroom theory with hands-on experience.”

The winning team will receive $10,000 cash, plus in-kind services. Additional prizes will be given for best business plan and best elevator pitch. In addition, the overall winning team will receive an invitation to participate in the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business Venture Labs Investment Competition. The winning team of that competition receives a $100,000 mixture of in-kind services and cash. In addition, the four top UTEP teams will be invited to compete in the UT System’s new competition, where they also have an opportunity to win $100,000.

Information: Aaron Cervantes Herrera at 747-6157 or

Venture competition goes pro

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Venture competition goes pro – El Paso Inc 2-10-13

Venture competition goes pro
Best idea wins $10,000
Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2013 6:00 pm | Updated: 3:45 pm, Tue Feb 12, 2013.
By Robert Gray El Paso Inc. staff writer

The Hub of Human Innovation business incubator is searching for entrepreneurs and start-ups in the region with big ideas, interested in competing in El Paso’s first ever venture competition for professionals.
For years, college students have competed in the Camino Real Venture Competition, pitting their business plans against each other. But this year the competition has been renamed the Paso del Norte Venture Competition and split into two tracks – a student track and professional track. “We wanted to expand this opportunity to entrepreneurs
in the community,” says Hub director Cathy Swain. “Our belief is the entrepreneurial culture here is alive and very, very well.”

Intent to compete forms are due Monday, Feb. 11, the competition entry forms are due Feb. 25, and the competition is March 9 at the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce at the University of Texas at El Paso. The top 10 ventures will have the opportunity to make 15-minute business pitches to a panel of judges comprised of angel investors, bankers and venture capitalists. The best pitch wins.
First prize includes $10,000 and a year of incubation at the Hub. The second-place prize is $3,000. To be eligible for the professional track, the business must be incorporated and located in the Paso del Norte region and must meet two of these three criteria:
• Have been in business no longer than three years
• Have no more than $250,000 in total annual revenue
• Have less than five full-time employees.
“We want businesses that can actually scale beyond the region. They are going to base, here but their impact extends beyond the region,” Swain says. “So we aren’t looking, for example, for local restaurants or dry cleaners, which are a critical part of the economy
here and are served by a lot of other organizations.”

The Hub of Human Innovation, located amidst a cluster of technology companies in the Transtelco Building in Downtown at 500 W. Overland, will coach entrepreneurs and help them perfect their pitches. The startup factory, launched close to two years ago, aims
to turn baby startups in the region into high-growth global companies. “We are trying to get people to lift their head a little bit and see what is possible out there,” Swain says. “There is a real global opportunity, and we are so strategically located to capture it right here in the border region.”

Paso del Norte Venture Competition
Saturday, March 9
Mike Loya Center
University of Texas at El Paso
Information: (915) 321-3121

Venture competition offers opportunity

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Venture competition offers opportunity – El Paso Times 2-3-13

Cathy Swain: Venture competition offers opportunity
By Cathy Swain Special to the Times
Posted: 02/03/2013 12:00:00 AM MST
Don’t miss a great opportunity to pitch your business to potential investors in the Professional Track of the Paso del Norte Venture Competition.

The deadline to apply is Feb. 11, and final judging is March 9. Sponsored by The Hub of Human Innovation and hosted by the University of Texas at El Paso, the competition offers a $10,000 cash prize and one year of affiliate incubation services to the winning business. A $3,000 cash award will go to the second-place finisher.

The competition provides a venue for developing business concepts from initial planning to a startup company and product commercialization. The competition has both a Professional Track and a Student Track to give students and professionals in the Paso del Norte Region the opportunity to launch a startup company.

The Professional Track is for entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today’s challenges through innovative approaches. Eligible entrepreneurs must be developing or expanding innovative businesses, which will contribute to the regional economy and can scale beyond the region. Eligible businesses must be incorporated and physically based in the Paso del Norte region (El Paso, Las Cruces and Juárez), scalable beyond the region, and meet two of the three following criteria:

  • In business no longer than three years.
  • No more than $250,000 in total annual revenue.
  • Fewer than five full-time employees.

The following are important dates in the competition:

  • Feb. 11: Intent to compete due.
  • Feb. 15: Notice of eligibility sent to contestants.
  • Feb. 22: Last day to practice pitch with Hub staff.
  • Feb. 25: Competition entry form due
  • March 9: Final judging.

The Hub of Human Innovation incubator works with entrepreneurs who have technology enabled scalable ideas to bring those ideas to market. Hub staff, partners and volunteers also work with companies based outside the region, seeking a “soft landing” to launch new products or tap new markets from here.

The Hub Works Monthly Workshops are held on the fourth Thursday of most months and are followed by Hub After Hours, which offers networking opportunities to connect innovative companies with know-how, talent, technology and capital.

Hub programs that support client companies include the Hub Team Mentor Program, which is modeled after the world-class MIT Venture Mentoring Service, Hub Clean Energy Partners, Hub Manufacturing Partners and The Hub EquityNet CrowdFunding Program.

The Hub is also preparing to host an intensive, hands-on 14-week advanced entrepreneurship course this spring, to go beyond the basics through the process of creating a scalable company. People with business experience who have managed a team and a budget, and who want to launch or grow a company beyond local markets will benefit from this course. The Hub will take applications in mid- February.

Cathy Swain is the executive director of The Hub of Human Innovation, 500 W. Overland, Suite 230. Email her at To learn more

Paso Del Norte Venture contest seeks entrepreneurs

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Paso Del Norte Venture contest seeks entrepreneurs – El Paso Times 2-1-13

Paso Del Norte Venture contest seeks entrepreneurs
By Vic Kolenc / El Paso Times
Posted: 02/01/2013 12:00:00 AM MST
El Paso area entrepreneurs have a shot at $10,000, and a year of business incubation in the 2013 Paso Del Norte Venture Competition.

Eligible entrants must be innovative businesses with big ideas that will help the regional economy, reported The Hub of Human Innovation, sponsor of the March 9 contest at UTEP.

Businesses must be located in El Paso, Las Cruces or Juárez and meet two of three other requirements: in business three years or less, annual revenue of no more than $250,000, and fewer than five full-time employees.

Intent-to-compete forms are due Feb. 11, and businesses will be notified by Feb. 15 if they are eligible to compete. The second prize is $3,000.
Information: Nancy Lowery at, or 321-3121.

The Hub Presents: New CrowdFunding and Traditional Money for Start-Ups

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By Angel Cancino/Inside The Hub

The Hub of Human Innovation hosts entrepreneurship seminars and programs every 4th Thursday of each month. These workshops provide educational content and networking opportunities for clients as well as pre-incubation clients. This August 23rd, The Hub Presents: New CrowdFunding and Traditional Money for Start-Ups. This workshop will introduce you to traditional funding sources in El Paso for working capital for startups, AND to experts on the emerging opportunity of CROWDFUNDING!

Speakers from different funding sources are:

Adrian Madrigal, Business Development Specialist, Small Business Administration [SBA] El Paso Office
Oscar Villasana, Vice President, WestStar Bank
Cristina Bringas, Senior Business Relationship Manager, Wells Fargo Bank
Eduardo Garcia, Business Services Coordinator, City of El Paso Planning and Economic Development — Revolving Loan Fund
Elvira Valles, Regional Director, ACCION Texas
Judd Hollas, President and Chief Executive Officer and Matt Imhoff, Vice President of Business Development, EquityNet, LLC.

The workshop Cost is $20.00 and space is limited. There is no charge for students and Hub Clients. If you can’t come for the workshop [2-5 PM], you may take advantage of the networking after hours – it’s free! [5-6:30PM]

For more information and to reserve your spot, RSVP to


FREE SBA Small Business Lending Fair

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  • Tuesday, July 31, 2012
  • 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
  • Location: EPCC Administrative Services Center, Building A
    9050 Viscount Blvd., El Paso, TX 79925-6511
  • Contact: For assistance, contact our office at (915) 831-7742.
  • Free event!


Applying for a bank loan can be a frustrating and mystifying experience for small business owners. If you are like many entrepreneurs, your first thought to the topic of seeking a loan may be “I don’t know enough about lenders and their loan requirements?” Don’t let that initial reaction stop you from expanding your business or getting your business off the ground and growing it over time. Knowledge about the financing of your business is essential to its success.

Discover how to simplify the lending application process and decide which lender makes sense to present your funding needs to during the upcoming Lending Fair. The event will provide an opportunity to meet with counselors who can help entrepreneurs develop their business plan and financial forecast.

A good lender is a terrific asset and you will have the opportunity to meet with different lenders and find the one that you feel comfortable working with. Lender’s who are interested in helping you make your business successful!

You will have the opportunity to speak with one of the representatives from the El Paso Community College, Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and other partners, including the Small Business Administration (SBA) and learn about the different types of SBA loan programs, free counseling and technical assistance. This is an excellent opportunity for people to hear financing experts discuss strategies that may lead to a loan approval, ask questions and to develop a lender relationship. Make the right choices today and see the results tomorrow!

Cathy Swain, Executive Director of The Hub of Human Innovation will have a table, and will be speaking about The Hub programs for part of the event.

Entrance requirement for this program is minimum 17 years of age.

Free event

Contact SBDC’s Training Office at (915) 831-7743.


Hub of Human Innovation Anniversary Open House & Tour of The Station – Urban Offices

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By Angel Cancino/Inside The Hub

The Hub of Human Innovation will celebrate its first Anniversary with an Open House on July 26th, 2012.

The staff at The Hub celebrate a year of success in growing businesses and they invite the community to come out and see where Technology meets Market.

The event will give guests the opportunity to tour The Station – Urban Offices. These environmental friendly offices just opened next door to The Hub in Suite 250.  They are perfect for companies looking for a modern friendly atmosphere in which to locate their business.  The Station provides state of the art facilities. It’s a place where ideas begin.

The El Paso community of entrepreneurs and friends are invited to attend The Hub’s First Anniversary Open House and enjoy some refreshments and network with the staff and clients of The Hub and The Station.

To RSVP email Administrative Assistant and Office Manager, Ceci Ann Medina at

Mark your calendar for future Hub Events:

August 23rd – New CrowdFunding and Traditional Money for Start-Ups
September 27th - The Ins and Outs of Import/Export
October 25th - Manufacturing Your Product on the Border
November 29th – Market/Sales Tips for Startups
December 20th – Holiday Open House


Re-Energize The Americas

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Law School for Start-Ups

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Make plans to attend another informative RBTEC session presented by The Hub, Innovate El Paso and Cox Smith Attornies. Law School for your business in one afternoon! Learn the basics surrounding legal issues you should consider as you start and grow your business. A team of lawyers from COX SMITH will cover strategic issues related to Business Formation, Contracts, Employment Law, and Intellectual Property, Trademarks and Patents. This intensive and informative session will include plenty of time for Q & A with the panel, followed by networking where you can talk with panelist one-on-one.

Date: Thursday, June 28th
Time: 2pm -6pm
Topic: Law School for Start-Ups
Place: Hub of Human Innovation, 500 West Overland, Suite 230


Cost is $25.00 and space is limited.
Thursday June 28th: workshop 2:00-5:00PM
Networking 5:00-6:00PM. For more information and to reserve your spot, RSVP to

Law School for Start-Ups is hosted in conjunction with the Rio Bravo Technology Entrepreneurs Council (RBTec) and is sponsored by: The Hub, Innovate El Paso and Cox Smith Attornies.


Cathy Swain: Executive Director, Hub of Human Innovation

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By Robert Gray\ El Paso Inc.

View original El Paso Inc. article

Born to a blue-collar family in an isolated town of 7,000 people in southern Illinois, Cathy Swain is a self-described Midwestern farm girl.

At first blush, Swain might seem an odd pick to lead a technology incubator that aims to turn baby startups into high-growth global companies.

In reality, though, she is probably the perfect pick.

After graduating college, Swain left small-town life for Silicon Valley. Her career has taken her from Wall Street, where she worked in investment banking, to Main Street in Vermont where she worked in economic development.

“I know exactly how it works, and I am not in it anymore,” Swain says of investment banking. “The foxes are all over the chicken coop; there are no chickens left in fact. There will never be the reform there needs to be in that industry.”

In 1999, she withdrew her registration as an investment manager and came to Texas where she watched over the University of Texas System’s endowment and general fund, which amounts to more than $20 billion.

Swain has a fiery personality and radiates optimism.

Since July 18 of last year, she has been imparting her knowledge to entrepreneurs in El Paso as executive director of the Hub of Human Innovation, which opened a year ago.

“I walked into a fire hose,” she says.

Swain started her job with only a business plan in hand and a location in the newly renovated Sotoa Office Lofts in Downtown. She quickly found funding, hired a small staff, obtained non-profit status and approved the Hub’s first clients.

Swain has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She completed post-graduate studies at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and is a Chartered Financial Analyst.

She has served as director of portfolio advisory services for Boston Financial Group and chief executive of Northern Community Investment Corporation in Vermont.

Most recently, Swain served as assistant vice chancellor for commercial development and director of investment oversight for the University of Texas System.

Swain sat down with El Paso Inc. in her closet-sized office – there is just enough room for a glass-topped desk, computer and the black exercise ball she uses as a chair – and talked about the Hub’s first year, its future and flying saucers.


Q: What brought you to this city to take the executive director position at an upstart incubator?

It’s a clean sheet of paper. The energy, the collaboration here – you don’t see that very often. The people I work with here, we were completing each other’s sentences in a matter of days. The Hub is not associated with any one individual. One of the things that made me grin the most when I got here was there had to be at least half a dozen people say to me, “Well, you know? The Hub was my idea actually.” And I thought, “This is cool. There are a lot of people here that seem to have taken ownership of it.”

When something is a winner, everybody wants to talk about it and we are going to be. Another thing is Mexico and the Latin culture is a passion of mine. I minored in Spanish lit in college and spent some time in Veracruz.

Q: What has the Hub done in its first year?

We have done a lot. First was to secure the funding commitment from the city – that was life sustaining – and the funding from the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, or SECO, that funds the clean energy incubator program.

Q: How much?

A total of $1.3 million over four years from the city and, from SECO, $200,000 over 18 months that ends Aug. 31. This is a proposal to SECO (flips through a pile of paper on her desk) to continue that funding for the next two years, so pray for us.

Q: I imagine you’ve had some late nights putting that together.

Oh, you don’t want to know. I’ve probably got 250 hours in this thing. I’m not kidding.

Q: You got the initial funding. What next?

I finished staffing the Hub, adding three employees, and we started adding clients. We’ve also launched three key programs; I will save the best one for last. First, we have enlisted roughly a dozen partners who have said they will potentially test and become early adopters of technologies developed by startups here, helping to prove the products in the marketplace. That’s a component of the clean energy incubator program.

The second program is the manufacturing partners program. When I came here, one of the things on my agenda was capturing the manufacturing strength of the region. The Paso del Norte is the gateway from Nova Scotia to Cape Horn. I mean, we really have an opportunity to be a pathway to the Americas. We have a lot of manufacturers in the region and Fortune 1,000 companies.

The problem is that those big companies do their own thing and aren’t interested in developing a production model for startups and new products. But there are contract and shelter manufacturers that do target new products and will work with a startup.

So we have identified more than 20 manufacturers here with all sorts of different skills that will actually work with startups.

Q: All in Juárez?

No. There is a mix in Juárez and El Paso. One of the things that really inspired us to get some momentum going behind the manufacturing partners program was an experience that relates to the third, and my favorite, program. That’s the team mentor program.

Q: Based on a similar program at MIT.

Exactly. So what has that got to do with manufacturing? Five of us went to Cambridge for training. While we were there, we attended a team mentor meeting. We were introduced as guests and told the group a bit about El Paso.

Later, one of the trainers comes up to us and he just said, “Shame on you guys. Every one of our ventures, as soon as they’re ready to go to manufacture, they go straight to China. They don’t know your area exists.”

So we actually have an open door to go back to MIT and tell the region’s story, the goal being to launch some MIT companies from here. And we got the exact same response visiting Silicon Valley.

Q: Wow.

I’ve been beating on the doors of REDCo, the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation, the city, economic development, anybody really, saying let’s get together and tell El Paso’s story.

And with the manufacturing program, now we can say, “MIT, Stanford. We have more than 20 manufactures down here that could work with your ideas and get them to market.”

Q: What is the team mentor program?

It’s a game changer for us and for El Paso. I see the power of it already. The approach is team mentoring. Sounds obvious, boring, “OK, whatever.” But, suddenly, the startups here have a team to help them. The mentors are volunteers – entrepreneurs, intellectual property lawyers, a venture capitalist from Austin, the head of a hospital group here, some very high powered, very quality, successful people showing up just for them.

I watched two or three of our clients that I would describe as stuck, despite everything the staff might do for them here, and they walk in that room and they rise to a whole new level. The mentors have to sign a document that they will live by a list of principals.

There are strict confidentiality agreements and, if any conflict arises, they have to resign from that team.

Q: So they can’t be an investor in a startup and mentor that startup at the same time.

Correct; they can’t sell their services to it in any way shape or form.

Q: So why do they volunteer?

They want to give back and they actually get a lot out of it. For example, some of the mentors are angel investors and if they decide, “Wow, I think I want to invest in this,” they just have to withdraw from that team. So they get to see an opportunity from the inside they may not have seen before.

It’s social. It’s exciting. Mentors get to meet with their peers and share their knowledge.

Q: How many have volunteered as mentors?

We have 22 already.

Q: You mentioned grants, but how else is the Hub funded?

Fees from clients, which right now are somewhere around 8 percent of our budget. Ultimately, the monthly fees might get up to 10 or 15 percent.

Q: What are the fees?

It’s the cheapest thrill you’ll ever get in your life. We have two types of memberships – resident and affiliate. Affiliate members have access to all of our programs anytime we are open – without a key or dedicated space. Residents have dedicated space, 24/7 secure access and their own phone line.

Affiliate members pay $295 a month. Residents pay $640 a month for an office and $575 a month for a cubicle.

Q: El Paso is not really known as a place for high-growth startups, but is there a startup culture emerging here?

It is a cultural shift that is going to take a long time, but the seeds are there. There actually is an entrepreneurial spirit already here in El Paso, but you’ve got to get people to raise up their heads and look at what is possible. I see that as part of our mission – to wake up the culture to what’s possible in terms of global market opportunities.

The local businesses who want to just serve El Paso County have many, many, many resources. But that’s not what we are about. We are trying to focus our energy on what I call technology-enabled, scalable businesses.

Q: How many clients does the Hub have?

We have 11 right now.

Q: Is there funding available in El Paso for startups?

That’s my world, so I’m like, “Give me that problem, give me good deals and I will find the money.” We have quite a lot of access to capital, everything from angel investors to SBA loans. Two of our companies have partnered with each other and one has money and is helping to fund the other. Good management teams, good jockeys with good products find money.

Q: So far, El Paso’s first venture capital firm, Cottonwood Capital Partners, hasn’t invested in an El Paso startup. While it has invested in other startups in the Southwest, the partners say El Paso startups that have applied just aren’t quite ready. Is that going to change soon?

Yes. That’s part of what our work is – to get the financials ready, to get the pitch ready, to get the management team together. I am going to predict that two or three of our clients will be ready to look for funding over the next year, and we will find it.

Q: Say I’ve got an idea for a startup and want the Hub’s help. What do I do?

Step one, you would call us. Actually, most people come in and we talk, and I’m going to have a feeling right away if you’re a fit or not. Believe me, I’ve turned people away. There is an application process and background check.

Q: How many applications have you reviewed?

I know we’ve reviewed at least 25 companies for the clean energy program. It’s a two way street; some have said they aren’t really ready or aren’t interested. We are looking for companies or ideas that represent some sort of scalable opportunity and entrepreneurs who are really dedicated.

Q: I know it’s only been a year, but can you give me a couple examples of successful Hub startups? Any failures?

I don’t want to name them, but I did have to terminate one contract. It was a lot worse than this but I’ll summarize it this way. The partners were not really being honest with one another.

As for successes, we have a company here called El Paso Roof Care that is a gazelle company, increasing their revenue by at least 20 percent every year for four years.

Q: One doesn’t usually think of a roofing company as a high-growth startup.

Well, they are going to hate hearing you call them a roofing company. I like to say they actually save the lives of roofs. Instead of replacing roofs, they find ways to extend the life of roofs and they do that with green materials.

Another one of our companies is Team Technologies. They have some very interesting technologies that are ready to be commercialized basically in three categories: life science, clean energy and advanced manufacturing processes.

We’ve got LeFran. They are going to take off like a rocket after they get their first products on the shelf, and that is within sight.

We have a brand new client that is going to make flying saucers. They are going to be showing their prototype at Spaceport America, and that is one reason why they’re here with us. They are going to be fundraising over the next year as well.

Q: Wait. Flying saucers?

Jerome Smith, co-founder of MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, gave a presentation here recently and he showed a video of a flying car as an example of why they don’t try to pick winners.

When the flying car came in the door there everyone went, “Oh boy, here we go,” and five years later the company has a five-year waiting list for the car. That’s a bit like how I view the flying saucer. It’s very futuristic, but I think it is going to go.

Q: Any new startups coming in?

We have one coming in August. It’s awesome. They make prosthetics. I’ll tell you more about them once they are here. They are a non-profit and they make prosthetics for Third World countries.

Q: What has been the greatest challenge for startups in El Paso?

Before Jerome left to go back to MIT, after leading three team meetings for us, he told me, “Cathy, those could be MIT companies. You are seeing the same kinds of things we are seeing every day.” The challenges here are the same as they are everywhere. What I see everyday are people who come with great ideas and no business skills.

Q: What’s your target for the number of successful Hub graduates, say, in five years?

We don’t have any sort of graduation. I’m less concerned about graduating people than I am about continuing to meet their needs while they scale – even when they do an IPO. There are people in this town who have been through an Initial Public Offering who could really help some of the companies here eventually.

Q: I imagine we are a long way from having a Hub startup that goes public.

I would say we are five years away from that.

Q: Really? Five years.

It could happen – five years.