• Sometimes startups need advice more than capital, and that’s where Colorado’s BEN steps in

    A month before announcing a new $80 million investment in his travel tech company, Brian Egan knew he needed help to manage this next stage of growth. At the invitation of a low-profile business organization that focuses on fast-growing companies, the cofounder of Evolve Vacation Rental shared his quandary with a group of seasoned entrepreneurs who already had built or run their own million- and billion-dollar companies.

    “I’m personally the CEO, and sometimes do the job of a CFO (chief financial officer) and COO (chief operating officer) and, at times, general counsel and head of HR, all of which, by the way, is totally normal for a startup,” Egan said he shared at the July meeting. “It was almost just having to articulate this and seeing their faces. They were horrified. One said, ‘Clearly Brian, I can’t underscore this enough but …you’re going to burn out. You really need to invest (time) in this as fast as you can.’”

    He took their advice and free help. Within six months, Evolve had a new CFO, general counsel and senior vice president of people. Nothing was mentioned publicly about the help.

    Known by its acronym BEN, the exclusive Blackstone Entrepreneurs Networkworks behind the scenes. If it seems like the region’s technology community has been thriving, some credit could go to this group of business veterans who’ve already made their millions. They mentor founders and CEOs and don’t ask a dime for their time. They swoop in when it feels local businesses are ready to grow beyond the startup stage, and have advised companies like Guild Education, real estate firm Trelora and retail software firm GoSpotCheck.

    And now two things will happen this month. The non-profit BEN runs out of its original $3 million funding from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, an arm of the private-equity firm Blackstone. And its leader, Greg Greenwood, has decided to step down. The search for a new director has begun.