Twelve weeks ago, six student teams joined the Catalyze CU startup accelerator with innovative concepts and a hunch that their ideas might be marketable.
This week, they were proven correct, as all emerged from the program with viable prototypes, waiting customers and vastly improved knowledge of how to successfully launch a startup from scratch.
“I learned so much doing Catalyze,” said Taylor Brooks-Murphy, a sophomore in the Leeds School of Business and marketing lead for ShineOn, a startup offering an improved bike light that’s preparing to begin mass production. “Being around entrepreneurs every single day allows you to move much more quickly.”
On Sunday, the teams pitched their concepts at Demo Day, the capstone event of the program, before the bright lights of Macky Auditorium.
The concepts ranged from a campus-based clothing exchange to an artificial muscle technology to a platform that pairs college students with aging adults needing household help. The presenters included Tim Visos-Ely (EngrPlus'19) of Stride Tech, Dean Eyolfson (CompSci,Phil'19) of Magneta, Julie Kinsella of Thrift/ed, Kathy Vega (EngrPhys'20) of ShineOn, Tim Morrissey (PhDMechEngr'19) of Artimus Robotics and Rachel Sharpe (EngrPlus'20) of Trio Care.
From the Startup Hub at Williams Village, the teams spent all summer tapping into Boulder’s prolific startup community, learning from local startup mentors who provided guidance for each team.
Those volunteer mentors helped to “crack open the black box of startup knowledge,” said Kyle Judah, director of entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, who leads the program. “We couldn’t do it without these incredible folks.”
Each team earned up to $5,000 in equity-free financing over the course of the program, and each full-time participant also received a $3,000 stipend to cover summer living expenses—critical to keeping the program accessible to all, Judah said. Funding came from numerous individuals and corporate sponsors, including the Caruso Foundation and Zayo Corporation.
The packed summer challenged student founders to refine their concepts through weekly goal-setting and accountability sessions, skill and concept workshops, networking events and pitch coaching.
“About halfway through, people started getting their first clients,” said Arieann DeFazio, former Catalyze CU participant and this year’s program director. “It’s that lightbulb moment. It’s really like watching a kid take their first step. As small as it seems, these three months really can change it for you.”
Sharpe said her startup, Trio Care, underwent several major pivots as they explored how they could help improve life for aging individuals and their caregivers. Those redirects taught a valuable lesson, she said.
“It is not about the exact solution; it’s about the problem you’re trying to solve and being really passionate about that problem,” she said.
Her cofounder, Sophie Brussell, a senior at Whitman College in Washington, put it this way: “I think Catalyze made the bad things go bad sooner and the good things go well sooner.”