by Dean J. Miller
Fascinated by all things technology in their youth, neither Andrew Dark nor Dan Wilson would have anticipated a future as leaders of one of the hottest space systems engineering start-ups in the nation.
Today the founders of Ascension Engineering Group, LLC. support America’s warfighters with high tech by prioritizing the most basic soft skills. At Ascension, taking care of people is a foundational company priority that includes an emphasis on mentoring, ensuring team member appreciation, and promoting a tailored, fulfilling work experience.
For Andrew, the journey included 10 years of uniformed Army service controlling and delivering crucial satellite communications to warfighters. For Dan it all started when his first job after college brought him to Aurora, Colorado to develop new satellite ground systems for Hughes Aircraft.
After fruitful 20-year careers in the industry, by 2017 the aerospace engineers had a dream to own and operate their own business. The dream, however, was tempered by healthy concerns about leaving the security of regular jobs.
Enter the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.
“We didn’t know, what we didn’t know – and we would soon find out,” said Andrew. “SBDC was that comforting source for our questions and concerns about standing up our business. It’s a very intimidating process with a lot of moving pieces and SBDC was incredibly helpful.”
As their Pikes Peak SBDC mentor helped answer questions and encouraged development of their business plan, confidence soared.
“Our SBDC mentor was a trusted, reliable sounding board who provided that affirming voice and allowed us to move forward,” said Andrew.
The two recall invaluable Pikes Peak SBDC classes on company formation, hiring employees, cybersecurity, basic accounting, and more.
“Most importantly, networking with other entrepreneurs through SBDC gave us a strong sense of community,” said Dan. “We were all going through the same hardships of building a business – mutually encouraged by shared experience.”
In August 2017, emboldened by Pikes Peak SBDC, and with great support from friends and family, the sole providers to both their families resigned their jobs and took a calculated leap of faith. It was a long leap.
With three-to-four months of living expenses in savings, Ascension landed its first contract in October 2017.
Immediately and since, Andrew and Dan were running at a speed and efficiency they had always envisioned. Early on, their first contractual customer encouraged them to expand their team with as soon as they could.
Just two years later, the service-disabled veteran-owned small business has more than quadrupled earnings, employs 16 people, and manages seven contracts — three with Boeing and four with other major aerospace firms including Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and L3 Harris.
“There is great personal satisfaction in having a business that allows us to make sure our employees feel valued, and allows us to take care of our warfighters,” said Andrew.
“We really want a culture that values individuals in our company; this has been the key to our success,” said Dan. “Our first employees took a risk; now our employees are our best marketing – they love what they do and tell people about it.”