Published: June 24, 2024

By Joe Arney
Photos by Glenn Asakawa (Jour’86)

Part of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing when to pivot. Huck Sorock (StratComm’23) had an early lesson in that.

Growing up in hockey-mad Minneapolis, Sorock, like many boys his age, was lovestruck for the puck—and good enough at the sport to secure a spot in a junior league after finishing high school. But his love of the sport waned as he was traded multiple times, “and I started to feel like a commodity.”

Although he left the sport to enroll at the University of Colorado Boulder, it never quite left his heart. Sorock earned money on the side as a referee starting in high school, and was amazed at how inefficiently refs are deployed to cover youth games.

“It’s a contractor-based industry—except you’re not actually choosing the time or location of any of the games you work,” Sorock said. “So I was getting plugged into games that were 45 minutes from home, when I would see one in the software available five minutes away.” Payments, too, were subject to maddening delays.

As a student in the College of Media, Communication and Information, Sorock watched his friends score internships with Goldman Sachs and Deloitte as they prepared for life after graduation. He decided he wanted a different path, and formed Refr Sports during his junior year.

Two judges speak with two members of Refr following their scond-place finish at NVC.“I was bred into entrepreneurship,” said Sorock, co-founder and CEO of the company. “My dad is a serial entrepreneur and when it came to jobs—which he always called 'the J-word’—he’d say, ‘We make those. We don't get them.’”

Now in its third year, Refr (pronounced “ref-ur”) has earned nearly $1 million in venture capital funding as it rolls out its platform to youth sports leagues around the country. In April, Sorock claimed second place—plus an audience choice award—at CU Boulder’s annual New Venture Challenge, which invites startups to pitch their concepts for the chance to win up to $100,000 in seed funding.

“There are so many entrepreneurs who try to do it all on their own. Huck understands the value of plugging into an ecosystem and working with mentors who’ve been there before,” said Stan Hickory, director of innovation and entrepreneurship at CU Boulder’s Research and Innovation Office, which hosts NVC.

For go-getters willing to build those networks, Hickory said NVC offers students a mentorship platform of 350 mentors from the Boulder startup community—an invaluable resource for student-led startups.

A CRM for ref assigners

If you’ve never wondered about the referees who showed up to work your town soccer matches, you’re not alone—Sorock said few people who haven’t worn the whistle understand the system. Most municipalities contract officiating out to a middleman called the referee assigner, who then finds, manages, schedules and pays the refs who work the games.

Those assigners, Sorock said, often are former refs who’ve had to manage the complexities of this system, yet aren’t ready listeners when Sorock tells them he’s got a better way for them to do it.

“We’ve basically built a CRM for assigners to manage their business, providing incremental technology that enables them to better tag refs to games and get them paid faster,” he said. “But these aren’t C-suite executives—they’re basically mailmen with a side hustle. So, they aren’t always receptive to change. Or, they ask for features that, if we offer them, are just digitizing an inefficient system rather than offering innovation and efficiency.”

Selling to an older demographic has been Sorock’s hardest challenge. But it’s also given him opportunities to learn, which he said is his favorite part of the job. A lot of that learning has come from leading a team of 13 that includes developers, sales functions and customer engagement.

“My dad is a serial entrepreneur and when it came to jobs—which he always called 'the J-word’—he’d say, ‘We make those. We don’t get them.’”
Huck Sorock (StratComm’23), co-founder and CEO, Refr Sports

“Ultimately, I’m trying to become a better person, leader, entrepreneur in general,” he said. “My experiences with Refr are definitely helping me get there.”

So, too, did his time in Boulder. Sorock appreciated the chance to pair his strategic communication major with the business minor offered by the Leeds School of Business, giving him exposure to concepts in marketing, finance, analytics and product development while taking a deeper dive into topics around communication and leadership.

Communication skills, Hickory said, often are a differentiator for successful entrepreneurs.

“The hardest part with a competition like this is no matter how great your idea is—and Huck’s idea is great—so much comes down to how you make that pitch,” he said. “One of the things we talk about with our young entrepreneurs is communication—do you have the right person, have you practiced, have you sought feedback over and over—and over—again?”

Sorock credited Hickory with helping him connect to Boulder’s strong startup ecosystem.

“I grew so much as a person at CU,” he said, mentioning a business course with Dave Cass as being particularly instrumental to Refr’s success: “It gave me the confidence to jump in with both feet, and to believe it was going to work out the way it should.”