Published: March 16, 2020 By

Six startup teams will vie for up to $100,000 in prizes at the 12th annual New Venture Challenge (NVC), CU Boulder’s premier entrepreneurial startup competition.

A record number of 146 ventures took part in this year’s competition, which kicked off in September 2019. In the months since then, faculty and students from every corner of campus have explored their ideas, technologies and passions with an eye on reaching the Championships—and maybe even beyond.

In February 2020, all teams competed in Round 1 and panels of community judges selected the top 30 to compete in Round 2. Competition was fierce and six teams were selected in Round 2 to ultimately compete in the Championships:

  • Darwin Biosciences — developing a saliva-based diagnostic called SickStick that can detect if you are sick before you develop symptoms
  • DocForge — helping software teams of any size write and maintain fantastic technical documentation
  • EdBoard — offering circuitry education kits that are fun, accessible, and backed by education research
  • Frenz — a phone accessory that lets people discreetly test their drinks for date-rape drugs
  • Mycobacteria Therapeutics — introducing next-generation probiotic strains to the supplement industry targeting mental health
  • Soulutions — developing an assistive device for people with Parkinson's Disease

“We’re extremely excited to advance to the NVC 12 Championships,” said Jackson Roberts, co-founder and CEO of DocForge and a junior majoring in computer science. “We’re grateful to be included in a group of such interesting and unique startup ideas. Until then, we’re focused on polishing our pitch, improving our product and getting the word about DocForge out.”

Getting to the NVC Championships was always a goal for Zayna Pieper, CEO and Founder of Frenz and a senior majoring in Engineering Plus with a concentration in mechanical engineering. “I had the privilege of watching the NVC 11 Championships in 2019, and the spirit of innovation that seemed to emanate from the stage was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Pieper.

Due to the circumstances of COVID-19, Round 2 took place remotely on March 12 after NVC track leaders, faculty, staff and judges helped pivot the event successfully from in-person to live video within 24 hours.

“Remote pitching for Round 2 really represented that spirit of innovation I had seen at last year’s Championships event,” said Pieper. “It was a team of NVC supporters who found a way to achieve all of our goals of safety and entrepreneurship without sacrificing either.”

Social Impact and Women’s Prize Night Results

The NVC 12 Social Impact Prize and Women’s Prize competitions were held on March 3 and 5, respectively. Ventures that had a socially-conscious/sustainable business model and/or at least one female founder were eligible to compete in these pitch competitions for additional prizes. 

Social Impact Prize Night Winners

Social Impact Prize:

  • 1st Place: TerraWear ($5,000) — helping consumers reduce their carbon footprint by curbing their clothing waste
  • 2nd Place: Frenz ($2,000) — a phone accessory that lets people discreetly test their drinks for date-rape drugs
  • 3rd Place: EmergenTek ($1,000) — creating an automated fire truck ladder controller called “The Fifth Man” that increases rescue efficiency

Sustainability Prize: FED ($2,500) — a food product for the mass market which utilizes food waste and circular economy principles


Vanessa Frye, Josh Sheetz and Tess Stevens— all graduate students in CMCI’s Strategic Communication Design master’s program—co-founded TerraWear in an Entrepreneurial Design course. The team, with encouragement from course instructor Jesse Weaver as well as industry mentors, sought to challenge themselves by competing in NVC.

“Being socially conscious was very important to all three of us when creating this business,” said Frye. “We hope that by tackling the clothing waste crisis and our society’s overconsumption problem, we will encourage sustainability and show people how easy it can be to help heal the Earth.”

Donna Merten, a graduate student majoring in Environment, Sustainable Food Systems and founder of FED, echoed Frye’s statements of being constantly challenged throughout the competition.

“I have been an entrepreneur for 20 years, but I had no idea how rigorous the process would be moving through the various stages of NVC,” said Merten. “I utilized many resources from multiple departments across campus to help move my company along and receiving feedback at each stage of the competition helped me better define my final product.”

Women's Prize Night Winners
  • 1st Place: Simovations ($5,000) — developing CathPort, which is a novel bladder catheterization device that eliminates tubes, bags, and many of the complications of current catheterization methods
  • 2nd Place: Elevated Eats ($2,000) — a sustainability-focused, healthy baked goods business featuring CBD and Eastern herbs
  • 3rd Place: EdBoard ($1,000) — offering circuitry education kits that are fun, accessible, and backed by education research


Sarah Hecht is the founder and CEO of Simovations, a pediatric urology fellow at Children’s Hospital Colorado at CU Anschutz and a CU Boulder continuing education student. As a newcomer to the CU Boulder community, she continues to be “overwhelmed by the collaborative and vibrant energy that pervades the innovation community on campus.”

“Winning the NVC 12 Women’s Prize has been the most humbling and validating experience in this startup journey,” said Hecht. “I am aware of the high failure rates of medical device ventures, but having access to the CU Boulder and greater Boulder entrepreneurial community gives me confidence that we can realistically bring CathPort to market.

NVC 12 Championships Moving to Virtual Format

Because of COVID-19, the NVC 12 Championships will also be moved from in-person at the Boulder Theater to a livestream format on Tuesday, April 7 starting at 5:30 p.m. More information regarding the NVC 12 Championships will be available soon and plans are subject to change.

“This will enable our hardworking NVC 12 finalists to compete for up to $100,000 in prizes as planned without endangering public health,” said Chris Gustavson, Director for CU Boulder’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative. “As we navigate this time of uncertainty, we are dedicated to providing a top-tier NVC experience as well as continued support to our CU Boulder entrepreneurs and innovators.”

Register Now for More Info