Published: May 18, 2023 By

Erick Mueller with a group of 20 students and two high school staff during 2019 $5 Challenge

Erick Mueller with a group of 20 students and two high school staff celebrating the conclusion of the 2019 $5 Challenge.

Erick MuellerFor nearly 20 years, Erick Mueller has strived to create a lasting positive impact for everyone interacting with the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) through entrepreneurship education provided by the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship. Although the last six years have been anything but predictable, Mueller has continued to lead and extend entrepreneurship education to CU Boulder’s students, staff, and faculty through various workshops, classes, and consultations. Over the past nine years, Mueller has expanded his impact to the broader Colorado community through the Rural Colorado Workshop Series, but also on a smaller scale by working with and inspiring Colorado high school students through the “$5 Challenge” workshop.

In 2018, Mueller began traveling to local high schools, spreading the message that anyone can be an entrepreneur and demonstrating this with $5.

At the start of every $5 Challenge workshop, Mueller defines entrepreneurship (the process of taking advantage of a unique combination of resources to leverage an opportunity) and then invests $5 into student teams of three to five students with the challenge to make a positive impact that maximizes the return for themselves, their team, their school, and their community. After the students come up with a business idea, they pitch it and its successes to a panel of judges, and one team from each class is declared the $5 Challenge winner!

Scaling the $5 Challenge

Katie MortonFor years, the Deming Center’s $5 Challenge has only been able to deliver the workshop sporadically, mainly due to limited time and lack of ability to scale. Thanks to the Deming Center’s newest Program Coordinator Katie Morton, that has all changed. Within her first semester working for the center, Morton transformed the $5 Challenge by mapping out processes, creating a curriculum, sharing the opportunity with the community, and implementing strategies to scale.

Morton’s proudest accomplishment thus far has been getting CU Boulder’s faculty, staff, and students involved in teaching and judging the high school student teams. Morton said, “High schoolers are more likely to listen to someone closer to their age. [This] gives college students the chance to give back and use their education in simple ways. Many are so focused on finals and internships that they don’t see the value in what they are doing. [The $5 Challenge] empowers our Leeds students to see that they are valuable and can give back.”

Success in Colorado High Schools

Local high schools that have offered the program end up adding it to their standard curriculum. Fairview High School teacher Michael Mowen heard about the program in 2018 when he contacted the Leeds School of Business to help prepare his juniors and seniors for college. Michael said,

“The $5 Challenge goes well every year that we do it. The students get exposure to professors and students at the next level. It gives them some exposure to the next level of expectations that are coming their way. In addition to the entrepreneurship piece, it is a unique opportunity for the kids to work together and work outside of school on a fun project.”

Ninth grade teacher and creator of Peak-to-Peak Charter School’s Innovation Program, Kristie Letter has a similar experience. She said,

“Erick Mueller brought up the $5 Challenge in a conversation we had about potential collaboration between CU Leeds and our new Innovation Program at Peak to Peak… and shockingly, he was willing to try it with ninth graders! I had to navigate a nervous administration, who were worried about handing cash to fourteen-year-olds, but the results were SO encouraging… I definitely want to do it again, if CU Leeds is willing!!!”

Thanks to the work of Mueller, Morton, Mowen, and Letter, this spring saw the most successful $5 Challenges to date. But don’t take our word for it, instead listen to the students.

“I thought that the $5 Challenge was an amazing opportunity for my class. When the Leeds team first presented it to us we were intimidated but eager to do our best. The challenge was set up with clear instructions and guidelines and that really helped my team lock down on the route we were going to go with our five dollars. We chose to focus on social responsibility and ecological sustainability. Using our five dollars, we purchased compostable plates, a poster board, and whipped cream. We then set up a fundraising stand for our Fairview Make-A-Wish kid, Claire. Our fundraiser consisted of letting strangers hit us in the face with whipped cream pies for five dollars and all of our proceeds went straight to Claire.”
Lexi Goldstein (Junior at Fairview)

Miralisa, Emily, Skye, and Aralynn holding $5 before winning the Peak-to-Peak $5 Challenge“Something I loved about the $5 Challenge is how I was able to make an impact out of basically nothing - and I learned how with such limited materials and time, I could really make a change and generate value. It was really cool to be able to interact with my community and do something I wouldn't normally be doing - entrepreneurship - which I used to think was only for adults.”
Miralisa T. (Freshman at Peak-to-Peak)

“The $5 Challenge was a fun and educational experience because I learned entrepreneurship and how to use my money wisely in a way that was helpful to my community.”
Emily S. (Freshman at Peak-to-Peak)

“I got so excited when I saw how interested the judges were in our actual idea, and it was incredible to see that they thought something we were so passionate about was a good idea and a good investment!”
Skye A. (Freshman at Peak-to-Peak)

“I learned the importance of marketing because since we posted on social media what we would be selling, people knew where to find us and knew what they wanted.”
Aralynn K. (Freshman at Peak-to-Peak)

This year students made a big impact from selling sweets during their lunch period to utilizing their artistic talents to brighten people’s day and raise funds for a fellow student in need. We can’t wait to see what they do next!

Thanks to the internal reworkings of the $5 Challenge, the program is equipped to take on even more classes. Are you interested in having a $5 Challenge at your high school in Boulder County? Reach out to us at Or show your support for the success and expansion of the program by donating here.

Students and judges at the Peak-to-Peak $5 Challenge watching a team of students present.


More Deming News

Spring 2024 New Venture Launch class, mentors and supporters at the class mixer.

Trailblazing Excellence: The Award-Winning Innovation of the New Venture Launch Class

When you undertake the entrepreneurial journey in New Venture Launch (NVL) , it is more than just a class. Thanks to the University of Colorado Boulder Deming Center for Entrepreneurship Faculty Director Brad Werner and the Intuitive Foundation , students accepted into the class receive hands-on learning, expert advice and...

Emily Speer Ryan at her CU Boulder graduation surrounded by other graduates
From Theater Lights to Tech Heights: The Journey of a Filmmaker to Chief Revenue Officer
Joe Constancia and his classmates enjoying a meal together in south France.
Unleash Your Entrepreneurial Excellence in Aix-en-Provence, France: New Venture Creation & Internship
Mackenzie Culver and Rhiannon Martin posing with their backs together at a table.
Revolutionize Your Abilities: Unleash Your Entrepreneurial Skills with Deming Ambassadors!