Published: Nov. 1, 2019

College goes all-in on entrepreneurship

An entrepreneur’s journey might never be painless. But CU Engineering is going all in to ensure that its graduates are ready to tackle the challenges of launching and scaling a startup.

Since naming entrepreneurship a priority in its Strategic Vision and hiring its first entrepreneurship director in 2018, the college has redoubled its efforts to keep innovation and entrepreneurship top of mind for students and faculty.

With a new entrepreneurship minor and expanded course offerings, increasing ties to campus accelerator programs, and dedicated spaces for dreamers and doers, we are weaving entrepreneurial skills into the fabric of the CU Engineering student experience from the time they set foot on campus. At the same time, homegrown startups are enjoying a banner year.

“We’ve been blown away by the ambition and progress of our CU Engineering student and faculty ventures,” said Kyle Judah, director of entrepreneurship. “And there’s still overwhelming demand and interest in more entrepreneurship programs and resources. So we’re rapidly creating resources in and out of the classroom to support founders at every step of the journey.”

Entrepreneurship minor launches

We launched a 15-credit entrepreneurship minor this fall to better equip students curious about starting their own venture.

With core courses in Entrepreneurial Product Design and Tech Ventures & Marketing, plus entrepreneurial capstone courses and a growing list of electives, students can immerse themselves in the ecosystem without losing progress toward graduation. They can explore topics that capture their interests, including blockchain, civic innovation, sustainability and big data.

The minor is available to students in any engineering department or the Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science major offered through the College of Arts and Sciences. And the individual courses are open to students from any major, allowing collaborations that mimic the real world.

Students in an entrepreneurship class

Engineers win NVC

Now in its 11th year, CU Boulder’s New Venture Challenge (NVC) trains participants to develop a business venture from scratch, connect with customers, create a product and craft a compelling pitch for investors.

For the first time this spring, NVC offered a hardware track, sponsored by CU Engineering, to specifically support teams focused on creating physical products.

The winning group, Stride Tech, created a device that attaches to seniors’ walkers to track gait problems before they result in dangerous falls. They emerged from the new hardware track to win the grand prize: $100,000 to move from idea toward reality.

The team, which formed out of the mechanical engineering senior entrepreneurial capstone course and the Design for America student group, included Engineering Plus students Tim Visos-Ely, Max Watrous and Humsini Acharya, and mechanical engineering student Andrew Plum.

Catalyze CU accelerator expands

Engineers turned out in droves for the Catalyze CU startup accelerator, which expanded from 10 to 12 weeks in 2019 and included skill-building workshops, mentoring sessions with local entrepreneurs and up to $5,000 in equity-free financing for each team.

For the second consecutive year, at least half of the full-time participants were women. Each student founder also received $3,000—provided by CU Engineering and the Caruso Foundation, led by philanthropists Dan and Cindy Caruso of Zayo Group—to cover summer living expenses so they could concentrate on establishing their ventures.

Bigger spaces for bigger dreams

The addition that will connect the Leeds School of Business and the Engineering Center will include entrepreneurship space. But while it’s under construction, the college also established a “pop-up” entrepreneurial space in the recently vacated aerospace wing to support student founders.

“We didn’t want to wait until the connector’s done to start supporting our student entrepreneurs,” Judah said. “We want to build that energy, that density of entrepreneurial talent, so when the new E-Ship space opens in 2020, we’ll have momentum in our favor.”

Students in an entrepreneurship class at CU Boulder