CU-Boulder students, alum launch innovation incubator space on University Hill

Published: Feb. 10, 2014

A group of University of Colorado Boulder students and alumni have put their entrepreneurial might into creating the area’s first co-working space designed to connect students with the business community.

“We’re building a bridge between CU-Boulder and the amazing startup ecosystem that’s all over Colorado,” said Fletcher Richman, managing director of Spark Boulder and a senior in electrical and computer engineering. “We’re giving businesses a way to tap into the talent that’s on campus while also bringing more visibility and introducing students to the businesses that want to talk with them.”

Offering desks, Wi-Fi, printers, conference rooms with phone and video capabilities, mailboxes and more, Spark Boulder, located at 1310 College Ave. on University Hill, will open its doors to the public on Friday, Feb. 21. Monthly memberships are available at a discounted rate for students -- as low as $20 for early subscribers -- and for the community as well.

Members will be able to use the space to develop their innovative ideas. They’ll also have the option of being connected to mentors through speed-networking events each Friday -- a unique element offered by Spark Boulder, coordinated in part with CU-Boulder’s Deming Center for Entrepreneurship and the cross-campus New Venture Challenge.

“Most students have really great ideas and have awesome skill sets that allow them to create things that no one’s ever created before,” said Richman. “Once that’s happened, there are a lot of ways to increase a student’s chances of success. Mentorship has proven to be extremely valuable.”

Richman is launching the 5,400-square-foot Spark Boulder with Bill Shrum, a senior in environmental design, and Ben Buie, a spring 2013 graduate of CU-Boulder’s MBA program.

The trio has worked to form the organization as a nonprofit and secure the lease on University Hill. They’ve raised about $140,000 in donations from a number of corporate partners. They’ve also reached out across campus to build interest among entrepreneurial clubs and programs and gain faculty support.

Assistance has come to them as well from students excited about Spark Boulder. Stephanie Bigelow, a CU-Boulder undergraduate in architecture, designed the space. Hired contractors have constructed most of the space, but droves of students have volunteered their time to paint, stain wood and finish floors.

“Campuses in general can be fragmented places and that’s not really ideal for starting great businesses or coming up with really innovative ideas,” said Richman. “We want to bring together students from engineering, arts and sciences, law, business and other departments, and put them in one space and allow them to interact with people who think differently than they do.”

Early student members of Spark Boulder are working on concepts including a Web platform that connects people with expert professionals instantly through video chat, an aquaponics -- or food production -- system, a student-run design agency, and the development of iPhone apps.

“I think every student right now should be developing an entrepreneurial skill set,” said Richman. “Whether you’re working at a big or a small company, the world is moving so quickly that if you don’t have some sense of how to innovate and how to be creative, you’re not going to be useful to most companies.” 

Spark Boulder’s corporate partners include Archer Bay law firm, ArcStone Partners financial services, Pivotal Labs software development, Zayo Group bandwidth infrastructure services, Tap Influence marketing software and SendGrid email services.

For more information about Spark Boulder visit