The next time that you look into the sky and see the distinctive outline of an airplane, something may be missing: the noise. Electric airplanes, once considered by the aviation industry a concept to mock rather than consider, have come a long way. Bye Aerospace, located in Englewood, is on the forefront of creating and designing aerospace products with a solar-electric configuration. They’re the first to develop an electric airplane for the flight training market—and that’s only the beginning.
Diane Simard, senior vice president and board member at Bye Aerospace, has seen the changes in the industry. She started investing in Bye Aerospace nine years ago and joined the corporate board in 2009. At the time, the company was more focused on biofuel, but Simard has always been on the “painful, bleeding edge” of innovation, as she explained it.
“It’s painful, but it can be advantageous to be the first to ever do something,” Simard said. “We certainly are in first place. No one else is viewing market opportunities like we are.”
It was Simard’s interest in renewable energy, as it applied to new industries, which led her to Bye Aerospace. However, she’s always been interested in innovation: she’s a business strategy accelerator and angel investor in six emerging technology companies ranging from medical devices to cybersecurity in addition to her work with Bye Aerospace. Her experience includes service on several corporate boards, including an electronics recycling company, an unmanned aerial systems company in Albuquerque (as a founding shareholder), a community bank and an IT consulting company. She’s also a business mentor to young entrepreneurs and business professionals.
Simard enjoys being on the cutting edge and Bye Aerospace is certainly taking off. It was named one of the 2017 Colorado Companies to watch and is currently involved in five projects, ranging from ready-to-purchase to preliminary R&D. The broader world has also taken an interest in Simard and her work. She was named the 2016 Outstanding Woman in Business in Technology and Telecom by the Denver Business Journal, and was named one of the nation’s inaugural Top 100 Women in Business to Watch in 2017 by Bizwomen.com.
But two years ago, Simard’s world changed. In 2015, she was diagnosed with intermediate stage breast cancer and started treatment. Sixteen chemo treatments, 32 radiation treatments and two surgeries later, Simard realized that there was a gap in the treatment that she was receiving. She discovered that, though there was plenty of discussion about how cancer treatments affect a person physically, there was a gap in the psychological treatments. Support groups abound, but for a person who is hesitant to share with a crowd, there were few options.
“There’s all sorts of data and experience with what happens (with cancer),” Simard said, “but very few conversations are being had about how it impacts a person mentally.”
Simard found that most of the money being donated to cancer research, whether it’s philanthropic or government, tends to go to research for cures. While that’s certainly important, Simard learned that mental health professionals, including licensed psychologists, typically don’t specialize in an area like cancer. At the time, no psychology training programs existed in the U.S. that focused on psychosocial oncology at the graduate level.
“There’s so much funding going towards research, to making treatments more effective,” Simard says. “We’re prolonging life, but what kinds of life are we living.”
This realization led Simard to meet with doctors at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology; the program they sketched out became the Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence (COPE). This 12-credit program helps graduate psychology students learn how to work with cancer patients, survivors and caregivers; the first cohort of students finished up their credits in August.
“I’m a fixer,” Simard says. “When passionate people put their heads together and say this is a training deficiency, you get it going.”
Simard says that this experience caused her to straighten up her priorities and do a lot of emotional pruning. She feels that she is privileged—that she got the opportunity to live.
“I saw plenty of people going through cancer treatments who were not going to survive,” Simard says. “It’s important to be a witness. I’m living my life to the best, doing the most I can to give back because their lives were taken.”
Simard recently stepped down from her role as senior vice president at Bye Aerospace. She will remain on the board and a shareholder at the company while focusing her energy on her communications company, 2G Associates. She is currently writing a book. Part memoir, part year-in-the-life description of her experience as an intermediate stage breast cancer patient, it explores the psychological impact of cancer, which is what led to the creation of COPE. The working title for her book is Champagne With You.
7395 S. Peoria St., Ste 206 (Box C3)
Englewood, CO 80112
Named one of the 2017 “Colorado Companies to Watch”
For more information on COPE visit du.edu/gspp/services/cope/give.html
Katie Coakley is a freelance writer, editor and inveterate traveler living in Denver. She has written for Colorado-based magazines and internationally-based online publications. You can find more of her work at katiecoakleywrites.com.
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