Published: April 5, 2020
NVC Story on Jeff York

April signals more than just spring blooms on the trees around CU Boulder’s campus; it’s also the return of one of the school’s most exciting, cross-disciplinary entrepreneurial events, the New Venture Challenge Championships—with up to $100,000 in prizes up for grabs.

At the top of Leeds’ teams to watch this year is EdBoard, a team of undergraduate engineering students who created engaging, educational circuitry kits for kids. The kits are great introduction to STEM and electrical engineering for children at early age and feature magnetic components that attach easily without any plug or wires.

The team is enrolled in a new class focused on entrepreneurship called New Venture Launch, taught by Leeds Associate Professor Jeffrey York. The course was developed in collaboration and partnership with The Robert and Kathleen Dobkin Intuitive Foundation. With Intuitive Foundation’s philanthropy and insights, Professor York designed an experience that is valuable to a diverse array of students, both undergraduate and graduate—in particular, business and engineering students.

EdBoard recently finalized a customer-ready and highly manufacturable design and will launch a Kickstarter campaign soon to prepare for market. The team also won third place in the Women’s Prize Night on their way to the finals.

Coincidentally, the second-place winner of Women’s Prize Night is also a team from York’s course—a solo proprietor, woman MBA candidate from Leeds. Her venture, Elevated Eats, is a sustainability-focused, healthy baked goods business made with CBD and Eastern herbs. All packaging is compostable and all ingredients are organic, vegan and natural.

A popular inaugural year signals success

In its first year, 41 students applied to enroll in New Venture Launch; only 14 were accepted: one junior, two seniors and 11 graduate students. Students' majors included Aerospace Engineering, Engineering and Education, Engineering and Design, MS in Supply Chain Management and MBA. This reflects the increased collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship occurring between Leeds students and students from the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Last June, Leeds and Engineering celebrating the official groundbreaking of their joint building expansion and new partnership, which represents a new era at CU Boulder—and the breaking down of traditional disciplinary boundaries between our two schools. The expansion not only joins the schools physically but also programmatically, allowing students the ability to draw upon each other’s strengths in collaboration on projects such as new business venture.

York’s class is at the forefront of what’s to come for the Business and Engineering partnership, which leverages its greater, collective community of business and industry partners, like the Intuitive Foundation, to help enhance the learning experience for the students.

Industry speaks to students

As one student explained, “This class has been really helpful in letting us figure out what it is we do not want to do when we launch. It has really allowed us to refine our mission and what we are aiming to achieve with our business.”

As the semester winds down, York is already thinking ahead to the next course in fall. His plan: get even more business and engineering students to work in teams. “Our goal is to have cross-disciplinary, collaborative teams,” York said. “While we’ve seen great success in this first class, I’m really excited about where we can take this experience in the future.”

In true entrepreneurial spirit, CU Boulder’s 12th New Venture Challenge has adapted its in-person championship this April to a virtual format on April 7. This adds an additional “challenge” for the six teams who are finalists, but they had good—albeit unexpected—practice when the last round before the finals pivoted in 24 hours to remote amid concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. Good luck to all finalists.

Learn more and register for the livestream here.