Published: July 12, 2020

In the face of uncertainty and a global pandemic, undergraduate students at Leeds chose to scrap months of work to support their communities.

Deming student pivot story judges

In early March, it became apparent that faculty and students at CU Boulder were switching to remote learning. While navigating through the changes, Deming Center for Entrepreneurship faculty and leadership looked beyond what was required to deliver their courses. Ever the entrepreneurs, they began discussing how their students could learn from this experience while supporting communities in need.

The Deming Center’s Visda Carson, Scott King, Erick Mueller, Brad Werner and Jeff York agreed that within the challenges of this crisis, there was also an opportunity for students to gain valuable experience. They felt students could learn how to lead an organization through change, prepare for a quickly evolving landscape and potentially help their communities.

“We all agreed that this was the perfect opportunity to let our students experience leading an organization through a crisis and transformative change using an entrepreneurial lens,” says Mueller.

From refinement to reimagination, students pivot into action

At the same time that businesses were facing an “adapt or fail” situation, undergraduates in Leeds’ New Venture Creation and Business Minor Capstone classes were given a choice to either continue on their existing ventures or start over and address challenges related to the current health crisis. Starting over meant coming up with new product ideas, new financials and new customer research. Either way, the work had to all be delivered by the same deadline: the end of the semester.

Choosing to scrap endless hours of work would be difficult for anyone. However, King, who is also an alumnus and entrepreneur in addition to a Leeds’ entrepreneurial coach, generously provided $25K in seed funding for those willing to pivot. Key requirements outlined by his donation included identifying the problems local communities are facing, coming up with solutions to those problems, and then validating the solutions with customers—all basic principles grounded in the entrepreneurial way of problem solving.

Sixteen teams from 14 classes chose to pivot and pitch their ideas for seed funding.

Pitching new venture concepts for community and funding

After weeks of revising business plans and developing product or service concepts, the teams began to work on their pitches for seed funding. By early May, all participating teams had pitched their ideas over Zoom to a group of judges in a “Shark Tank”-style setting. The panel of judges included Henry Kvietok and Jot Kaur, principals for Get Seed Funding and Scott King.

The teams presented ideas such as online mental-health resources for students, ways to provide face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to Boulder shelters, nature-themed virtual-reality experiences, and protection from COVID contamination on point-of-sale keypads.

Deming student pivot story studentsFor those who succeeded in the first round, a second round of funding was provided, and additional pitches were held on May 11. Four teams were able to secure part of the $6,500 in additional funding available. Funding awarded ranged from $500 to $2,000 for each of the four ventures presented. This round, judges included two new managing directors on top of the original four: Anya McGanty and Charlie Wasson, managing directors for the Deming Center Venture Fund.

What’s Next?

After the semester ended, several teams continued with the development of their ventures. These teams have taken advantage of mentoring calls and check-ins provided by Deming Center faculty and leadership. Additionally, teams have reported on their progress with some garnering letters of intent and moving on towards customer use. 

According to student Noah Austin from the team/venture, Mask’s Provided, “One takeaway I got from this experience is I love actually seeing the impact I can make in my community.”

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