Future uncertain for Innovation Pavilion in Centennial

Business incubator may move after CEO accused of sexual assault


After shedding two CEOs in the span of about three months, Innovation Pavilion, a co-working campus geared toward startups and entrepreneurs, may move out of its headquarters in the wake of sexual assault allegations against its former CEO.

Space at the building at 9200 E. Mineral Ave. in Centennial, which offers meeting, desk and office areas, is described as being for lease in online real-estate listings.

Following a lawsuit by a former employee accusing then-CEO Waqar “Vic” Ahmed of sexual assault and harassment of multiple employees of the business, Ahmed denied the claims but announced he was stepping down in a May 31 statement.

Kitty Kolding took the helm as interim CEO and then became the new CEO, according to a July 31 news release.

Over the years, Kolding partnered on several projects with Innovation Pavilion, the release said.

“The idea of creating powerful innovation programs that breathe life into the development of fully equipped innovation campuses across the country is unlike any venture I've seen,” Kolding said in the release. “It's a big, bold vision, and I'm enormously proud to lead this exciting venture.”

But she resigned in August, Kolding said Sept. 17. Jameel Barkat — who was appointed chief financial officer, according to the release — remains with the company, and many other employees have resigned, to Kolding's knowledge.

The company plans to move out of its space by the end of the month, to her knowledge, Kolding said. She did not want to comment on her resignation.

Kerianne Leffew, whom the May 31 statement said would take over as president, no longer works with the company, according to an automatic email response.

Neil Marciniak, Centennial's economic development manager, said the city is aware that the company's space is up for lease but does not have more information on the company's future operations. Mayor Stephanie Piko commented on the impact Innovation Pavilion has had in Centennial and the south metro area.

"Having a space for entrepreneurial start-ups to gather in Centennial helped set the attitude for innovation throughout the city," Piko said.

Doug Tisdale, executive vice president of economic development at the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, said Innovation Pavilion has been a strong supporter of STEM education in the south metro area and boasted other assets.

“It’s always good for the economic development of an area to have something like Innovation Pavilion around,” not only for companies or entrepreneurs that work out of there, but also for other businesses looking for talent, Tisdale said.

Questions to Barkat and other employee email addresses regarding employee resignations, whether the company plans to move and its future doing business were not returned. Spokesman Amaan Khan did not return phone calls or emails. Ahmed did not return a call.

The company was open the afternoon of Sept. 20, when a handful of people worked in offices and other areas. A guest who has done work in the company's spaces for the past few weeks said she usually sees anywhere from 10 to 25 people at Innovation Pavilion working or attending events.

Innovation Pavilion, founded in 2011, established what its website called a "robust entrepreneurial ecosystem" that aims to offer access to funding, event space and "in-depth expertise" from veterans of various fields. The company called Centennial a "hub of corporate activity" and grew alongside it, the website said. The Centennial location is its corporate headquarters.

Lawsuit develops

The lawsuit against Ahmed was filed in Denver District Court in late May by Suzy Gutierrez, who worked for the company for nearly five years before resigning in June 2017, according to the legal complaint.

The complaint alleges incidents ranging from Ahmed suggesting that employees participate in sexual acts to Gutierrez experiencing several incidents of groping.

“I had consensual relationships with co-workers,” Ahmed wrote in his May 31 statement. The “civil charges that have been brought against me that imply coercion (and) harassment, particularly sexual, however, are categorically false.”

The attorneys for Ahmed and Innovation Pavilion, which is also named as a defendant in the suit, filed a motion Sept. 4 to withdraw from representing the defendants. If the court grants that motion, future proceedings in the case would still occur, the filing said.

Barkat and Ahmed have been served that motion but had not responded, the filing said.

That kind of motion could stem from any number of reasons, and it's not uncommon, according to Jon Sarche, spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Branch. Cathleen Heintz, one of the attorneys for Ahmed and the company, declined to comment due to her firm's policy of not commenting on active litigation.

Attorneys for Gutierrez filed a motion to vacate, or cancel, a case-management conference and related dates until further notice. The court granted the motion, a Sept. 10 filing said. A case-management conference often goes over procedural matters and setting future dates in the case, Sarche said.

Beyond Centennial

It was unclear whether Innovation Pavilion would stay active as a company in other locations.

The proposed groundbreaking on an Innovation Pavilion campus in Florence, Arizona, was likely “a ways out,” Kolding told the Florence Town Council in July, as reported by the Florence Reminder and Blade-Tribune newspaper.

Innovation Pavilion also had a deal with the City of Joliet, Illinois, as The Herald-News reported.

Joliet's relationship with Innovation Pavilion appeared to end Sept. 4, as the Joliet City Council voted to repeal an agreement that would have provided the company with city land and money to start an incubator campus, the newspaper reported.

The departure of two CEOs at the company led to the decision, according to a city council memo, the paper reported.


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