Published: Oct. 4, 2018

Justin Gold founder of Justin's tells his story at the campus kickoff  

Before an idea can come to life, it first has to be imagined. In other words, it takes a spark to ignite new ideas, and that’s exactly what CU Boulder's first Innovation & Entrepreneurship Campus Kickoff was all about.  The purpose of the night was to inspire the audience with incredible stories, connect people from all backgrounds and disciplines, and to show attendees what steps to take if they want to push their ideas further.

Over 400 students, faculty, campus and community members gathered in the Village Center to take part in this massive and exciting kickoff.  The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, which aims to transform CU Boulder into an innovation university, was responsible for bringing everyone together. The emcees were three members of the Innovation Action Team, students who lead innovative efforts across campus, David Lopez (a sophomore in Leeds), Cale McLellan (a freshman studying business), and Farah Akhtar (a PhD student in electrical engineering).

The night began with a fireside chat between Professor Brad Bernthal from the law school and Justin Gold, the founder of Justin’s, a popular nut butter.  Justin’s story resonated with students and adults alike.  He explained that he started as a law student with a degree in environmental policy, but was not sure what he was really passionate about.  One day, as vegetarian who loved peanut butter, he became curious why there wasn’t better peanut butter, and his journey expanded from there. One of his best takeaways was that he didn’t realize he had an expensive hobby, making his own nut butter, and that businesses are about making money. He finally turned his hobby into a business when he had the epiphany to put peanut butter into squeeze packs, something that didn’t exist yet in the marketplace and became his differentiating factor.

Next, the entire Specdrums team (the championship winner of NVC10) joined Jeffry Nytch to share how they met and talk about how the company is doing after launching a little over a year ago being acquired by Sphero.  The audience learned that Steven Dourmashkin, an engineering student, met Jack FitzGerrell by hanging flyers in the business school when he needed marketing help.  Then, he met Jenna Palensky at an event in the music school since he was looking for someone with a music education background.  Zane Taylor met Steven during a Startup Weekend in Boulder, and they hit it off.  The Specdrums story exemplified the power of networking across campus and bringing a diversity of talented people together.

Afterwards, there were two pitches to show the audience what it looks like to pitch an idea and identify problems that need to be solved. Noble Roots, a startp that went through Catalyze CU, shared their healthy snack company with a social impact model.  Artimus Robotics, the second place winner of NVC 10, demonstrated the future of robotic technology that imitates human muscles.

Finally, the audience learned key information about New Venture Challenge 11, including the fact that there is $200k on the table in prize money.  The evening concluded with networking and information tables where campus staff were present to talk about resources and programs.  Many attendees headed into the Startup Hub where there was a marbling activity to ignite everyone’s creative spirit while hanging out and getting to know each other.

Overall, the night was a smash success, getting people excited for what’s to come this academic year.  As the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative continues to grow campus-wide, more and more students are curious about how to get involved and looking for ways to find like-minded peers.  Likewise, the entrepreneurial mentor community is eager to help, and many of them were at the event talking with students, providing the first pieces of motivational advice.

Audience at the campus kickoff