Ascension Engineering Group reaches for the stars

by Dean J. Miller
djmillercommunications@gmail.com

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.”

Meet the Author

Aikta Marcoulier

Aikta Marcoulier joined the SBDC team as the director of the Pikes Peak center in May 2012. Prior to the SBDC, she was the director of partnership marketing with the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). Marcoulier first began her work within the Colorado Springs community with the Native American Sports Council, a community-based organization of the United State Olympics Committee, where she received the experience of acquiring grants and local support to meet broader goals of the organization. Aikta is involved in the El Pomar Emerging Leaders Program. She is an active board member of the Pikes Peak Workforce Development Board, Pikes Peak Community College Business Advisory Board, Better Business Bureau Board of Directors, BRCA Girl, and the Colorado Business Development Foundation.. She serves on numerous committees for the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Women of Influence, Southeast Business Plan Competition), is a mentor for Leadership Pikes Peak, serves as Co-Chair for the Census 2020 Business Committee is on the Technology and Funding Committees for the Colorado SBDC Network and is an acting a board member for the Colorado Business Development Foundation. Additionally she is a member of the Employer Advisory Committee for the UCCS College of Business Career Development Center and ROAR (Relationships, Opportunities, Acumen, and Readiness Committee). Past memberships include board membership to the Colorado Institute for Social Impact, Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Women to Women Mentoring and the Executive Leadership Committee for the Leukemia Lymphoma Man/Women of the Year Gala. Marcoulier received her MBA in global management from the University of Phoenix and undergraduate degrees in both economics and psychology from the University of Iowa. She was awarded the University of Iowa Leadership Award in 2011 and was named one of the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s Rising Stars for 2013 and Women of Influence. Additionally, Aikta earned the Colorado State Star Award in 2013 and lead the Colorado Springs SBDC to earn the UCCS Deans Award, El Paso County Recognition Award, SBA Region VIII Award for Innovation and Excellence and the Pikes Peak Arts Council Arts Advocacy Award. She is a 2018 Colorado Springs Leadership Institute (CSLI) Alum and 2017 Leadership Pikes Peak (LPP) Signature Program Alum.

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