STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
DurangoSpace co-founder Jasper Welch has held the titles of owner, incubator president and mayor, and now he’ll add one more to the list.
Last week, Welch was named CEO of the National Business Incubator Association. The trade association, whose 900 members span the globe, provides information, education, advocacy and networking resources to advance business incubation and entrepreneurship.
Welch was chosen from a field of 100 candidates for the job. He will oversee a staff of 13 and a $1.5 million annual budget.
The fact that a small-town candidate like him was hired on a national scale is really a “feather in the cap for Durango and Farmington in terms of our entrepreneurial community,” Welch said.
“We have an ecosystem that is strong enough that it has given me experience that is relevant,” he said.
Welch has had a hand in many elements of the local “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” as he terms it. Before starting the coworking facility DurangoSpace, Welch spent 12 years as director of the San Juan College Enterprise Center, a mixed-use incubation center in Farmington.
He laid the groundwork that helped the foundation become what it is today, said Judy Castleberry, the center’s interim director.
Welch founded the local consulting firms Client Focused Solutions and Four Corners Management Systems. He also taught marketing classes for the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center, which has been a great resource for the center’s clients, Director Joe Keck said.
Aside from his private work, Welch served two terms on the Durango City Council, twice as mayor during the 1990s.
Both Keck and Castleberry have high hopes that Welch’s new position would help attract more attention to the work of local business-support organizations.
“Jasper going into this position shines a spotlight on the local incubator and local entrepreneurship scene,” Castleberry said.
Keck has larger ambitions.
“Potentially, it might really reap some benefits for us here in our area in terms of maybe bringing some of the resources to help get an incubator going here. That would be my goal,” he said.
Though most of the National Business Incubator Association’s staff works out of Athens, Ohio, Welch will continue to work out of DurangoSpace. Such a distributed work model is one he has touted as the future of the workplace.
The association will need to continue adapting to the virtualization of work as well as other changes in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, Welch said. Business accelerators, startup boot camps and coworking facilities, for example, are gaining popularity, and business incubators need to find a way to better define their role among these other services and network with them, Welch said.
“Because of changes in entrepreneurial ecosystem we have to reach out to the coworking and angel-investor community to have a conversation about how incubation can help them do what they do,” he said.
David Terry, chairman of NBIA’s board of directors, outlined similar goals for the organization as it “races for relevance” in a changing world.
“We really need to accentuate our value of place-based innovation – that is something NBIA needs to lead in. We need to create this big tent environment for these entrepreneur support organizations like accelerators,” he said. “(Jasper) is going to be the guy to lead us into the next generation of innovation.”