By:Shawna Ervin Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Jewel Of Collaboration
When John Brackney, President and CEO of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, asked Marcia McGilley if she’d be interested in helping with the Cleantech Open’s (CTO) business competition for cleantech startups, there was no question about it. McGilley was definitely in.
“I had chills,” she said. “I knew it would be a perfect fit with our South Metro Denver Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and something I personally believed in. To be on the ground floor working with these exciting companies was an honor and a challenge.”
As the Director of the South Metro Denver SBDC, Marcia lead 9 consultants last year in assisting over 500 entrepreneurs in the South Metro area with over 1000 hours of consulting that resulted in 226 jobs created, 116 jobs retained, 79 new business start-up and over $7.5 million dollars in capital formation, exceeding all the SBA’s goals during this down economy.
With this experience and her conversation with John Brackney, McGilley dove in headfirst and developed a unique pilot project connecting SBDC’s across the Rocky Mountain Region with the CTO program that has been turned into a model for the rest of the nation. The model allows SBDC’s to partner with the Cleantech Open business competition to assist early-stage cleantech companies with market research, consulting and training. The Cleantech Open was a natural fit with the SBDC’s mission – to help businesses start and grow – as well as with McGilley’s personal interests in the environment and sustainability. The SBDC’s workshops, market research assistance and one-on-one consulting were a perfect fit with what the Cleantech Open contestants needed to be able to launch or grow their businesses successfully.
“What the contestants get through the Cleantech Open from the SBDC is the ability to make better and wiser business decisions, which in turn creates jobs, which builds a healthy economy,” Brackney said. “That’s the reason the Chamber is so excited about this project.”
For Marcia, work with small businesses is not something she considers merely a job. It is deeply ingrained in her.
SBDC’s across the nation are dedicated to helping small businesses start and grow by providing one-on-one consulting, mentoring and various workshops, which often mean the difference between a business failing or succeeding. SBDC’s are funded by a combination of federal, state and local entities; the South Metro Denver SBDC is hosted by the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.
As a result of the SBDC's work in the Clean Tech Open, more than 900 jobs will be created over the next five years. These same companies have raised nearly $7 million in capital formation already.
Over the course of the competition the South Metro Denver SBDC provided 300 hours of consulting and training for Cleantech Open contestants. McGilley coordinated workshops, read business plans, gave feedback on presentations, and supported the contestants in in-depth market research and one-on-one consulting in all phases of the competition. In a way that is rarely seen, the Rocky Mountain Region brought together volunteers from private businesses, non-profits and government entities to work together for a common vision – helping businesses get to the next level. McGilley also applied for, and received, a WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) grant to fund the workshops. The WIRED grant is funded by several government entities.
“This was an enormous task,” Brackney said, “bringing together so many volunteers from public, private and government entities to work alongside one another for a common vision. This project represents a big societal and cultural shift. Marcia McGilley put in many hours of her time each week to put on a successful project for everyone involved in the Rocky Mountain Cleantech Open.”
“It was exciting,” McGilley said. “Each week we were able to see progress with the teams as they worked on their business plans and presentations. I could see how we were helping each team. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to this year’s competition.”
For McGilley, work with small businesses is not something she considers merely a job. It is deeply ingrained in her. No matter where she is in life, she said she will likely always have a business on the side. Currently, she owns Limelight Presentations LLC, a business specializing in coaching professionals to shine in the limelight whether speaking to a large audience, the media or as an expert on a panel. She has been a professional member of the National Speakers Association for over ten years. Marcia is also a professional actor, represented by Big Fish Talent Agency, where she acts in television commercials, corporate videos and films. Last year, she participated in three 48 Hour Shoot-out short films, two were award winning. In her spare time, she can be seen on stage or in improvisational comedy performances. Combining her professional speaking and acting interests is what created Limelight Presentations. Her motto is “Don’t be a lemon in the limelight!” She helps people communicate and present themselves more effectively. As the Director of the SBDC, Limelight is still operating but has taken a back seat to launching and growing businesses.
With small business in her blood – 12 of her immediate relatives own, or have owned, small businesses – McGilley started her first small business in 1989 with the help of an SBDC. After a year in business she was asked to be an SBDC consultant, and after 20 years of owning businesses and working with SBDC’s she has helped launch more than 1,000 businesses. As a self-professed "business mid-wife", Marcia is passionate about helping birth businesses and go through the growing pains side by side with the business owner.
"The passion oozes out every pore of entrepreneurs," she said. "You can’t help but want to help them. I get up each morning excited to go to work. I love hearing the new ideas people have and am honored to be part of the launching and growing process for these businesses. I get to help people make their dreams come true. It’s so rewarding!"
Overall, 24 of the 65 initial contestants became new SBDC clients using the SBDC’s services during the application process. The 12 semi-finalists received in-depth market research, business planning training, consulting and presentation skills training along with feedback before and after their judging sessions. Two semi-finalists later participated in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) business competition in Golden, Colorado. NREL reported that companies going through the CTO process have a 40 percent higher likelihood of being selected than non-CTO companies due to the extensive training, consulting and mentoring. As a result of the SBDC’s work in the Clean Tech Open, more than 900 jobs will be created over the next five years. These same companies have raised nearly $7 million in capital formation already.
“The SBDC added a lot of value to the Cleantech Open,” said Jerry Healey, Rocky Mountain Cleantech Open Mentor and Program Chair. “The SBDC added workshops, expertise, additional volunteers and paid expertise. It is through the SBDC’s efforts that the Colorado teams really had a leg up on the other regions.”
In every state represented, the Cleantech Open makes a difference for its contestants. Nationally, CTO contestants have an 85 percent success rate, far higher than the typical 50 percent failure rate among small businesses. Last year, in the Rocky Mountain region’s inaugural year, the region brought in 64 contestants and 12 excellent semi-finalists, which surpassed the CTO’s expectations.
“Being originally from Colorado I was thrilled and excited to see Colorado becoming involved in the Cleantech Open,” said Katie Roberts from the Cleantech Open headquarters in California. “They really took the initiative as our first region of our expansion. I think Colorado is a thriving place for cleantech companies and I was excited to see the incredible amount of ambition the Colorado volunteers and companies had. We are excited to see what happens this year in the Rocky Mountain region.” The CTO's mission is to find, fund and foster entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today's most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges. CTO is a catalyst for bringing leaders together to accelerate promising technologies and companies.
The CTO is the world’s largest Cleantech business competition. The CTO’s mission is to find, fund and foster entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges. CTO is a catalyst for bringing leaders together to accelerate promising technologies and companies. Originally founded by a group of California volunteers in 2005, the competition aims to provide in-depth training and mentoring to clean energy startups, as well as an opportunity to complete and fine-tune a business plan.
In 2008, a group from the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce’s Renewable Energy Taskforce visited California looking for ways to put Colorado on the map with clean energy. The Cleantech Open was exactly what they were looking for; so they worked to form the Rocky Mountain Region, a six-state region including Colorado, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Today, there are four regions representing a total of 22 states in the business competition and a new global ideas competition, making the CTO the world’s largest Cleantech business competition.
The Rocky Mountain region’s unique project has paved the way for other regions as the Cleantech Open expands. As the point person for the model, McGilley has been in talks with 14 other Colorado SBDC'c, as well as other SBDC's in the Rocky Mountain region. She is working with the new North Central region and the SBDC contacts in Minneapolis to tailor the model to work there, as well as other regions in the Cleantech Open. The model is remarkably flexible allowing any state or region to take what they need or want from it and do as little or much as they would like.
“Marcia has been instrumental in being a liaison to the other regions and making those connections,” said Dick Franklin, Rocky Mountain Cleantech Open Director. “She has been shortening the runway and adapting the Cleantech Open to new areas for 2010.”
Contact Marcia McGilley, Director of the South Metro Denver SBDC (Small Business Development Center) at 6840 S. University Blvd., Centennial, CO 80122, 303.795.0142, firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.SmallBusinessDenver.com. For more information on the Cleantech Open visit
Shawna Ervin is a former reporter and owner of a small business. Her business, Ervin Communications, offers writing and editing services to a variety of businesses and non-profits. For more information, visit ervincommunications.com.
Cleantech Open Process
• Deadline to enter Executive Summary – May 22
• 12 – 20 semi-finalists selected from all applicants
• Attend workshops, symposium and clinics – Summer
• Submit business plan – September 11
• Mock Judging – October
• Final Judging and Awards Ceremony – November