It doesn’t matter how much public speaking you’ve done or how experienced you are in the spotlight. Pitching your company in front of prospective investors will get your palms sweating.
“I’m an instructor at CU and a former Miss Colorado competitor, so I’m usually pretty good with public speaking. This was the first time that I have actually had some terrible nerves,” said Laura Moore (Psych’11), founder and CEO of Silk by Laura LLC.
Moore’s pitch at Investor Day was the culmination of her experience with Catalyze CU. Silk by Laura LLC was one of four ventures in the 2022 Catalyze cohort, a 12-week summer startup accelerator for ideas and technologies by students, faculty and staff at CU Boulder.
“Investor Day was amazing, even more than I anticipated,” said Moore. “I’m still very well connected with many of the investors, and I received validation that my pitch is the right pitch and I’m headed in the right direction.”
This year’s Investor Day was a new culminating event for Catalyze CU. The program has previously celebrated the conclusion of each cohort with a Demo Day capstone.
“This year's cohort all achieved some level of traction, including some companies with initial sales. We decided a dedicated Investor Day would be a great way to finish the program since investment would be the next natural step,” said Karen Crofton, Catalyze CU program director and Stephen M. Dunn Director of Engineering Entrepreneurship & ESCEND®.
The 2022 cohort was also the most diverse in the program’s history, with a majority of participants from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the venture community.
Supportive programs like Catalyze are crucial to building an inclusive innovation community. Program participants get the customized help they need to break through barriers for things like startup capital and gaining access to valuable founder and investor networks. Level the playing field makes entrepreneurship more welcoming and accessible for everyone.
Local investors evaluating the teams’ pitches included Rachel Anderson, associate at Caruso Ventures; Peter Adams, managing partner at Rockies Venture Fund; David Brown, partner at Zintinus; Kevin Allen, managing director at New Community Transformation Fund; and Shannon Flahive (MBA’21), senior venture associate at Ensemble Innovation Ventures.
“The quality of the pitches was inspiring,” said Flahive. But just as impressive to her was the wide range of support that the university provides for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“I think it’s incredible that CU Boulder offers these programs for students. This type of program and resourcing is not widely available. CU Boulder does a fantastic job supporting entrepreneurial pursuits from both a programming and monetary perspective,” she said.
For Leo Nguyen (IDEN’23), another participant in this year's cohort, the program’s impact was deeply personal.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur when I was younger but thought I didn’t have the resources or knowledge to do it. This was one of my most life-changing experiences. It empowered me to pursue entrepreneurship and to pursue greater things,” said Nguyen.
Nguyen gave up a competitive summer internship opportunity to participate in Catalyze CU. The program guided his team through the full spectrum of business planning, from market research to financial modeling and developing a pitch. He’s convinced the experience was more valuable than any internship.
“Even though I gave up my summer internship to do this, it was 100% worth it. You learn from so many people, like CEOs and venture capitalists. The mentorship and support you get—you can’t put a price on that,” said Nguyen.
That’s exactly the experience that Crofton hopes to share with future cohorts of Catalyze CU participants.
“It’s a lot of work for the teams,” she said. “But the lessons and connections our entrepreneurs gain through Catalyze CU will stay with them for a lifetime.”