When his grandma took a devastating fall using a walker, Timothy Visos-Ely channeled his love and concern into a brilliant idea: digitally enhanced walkers that would help seniors correct user errors before they result in dangerous mishaps.
On April 3, the 22-year-old Kansas native and his CU Boulder teammates celebrated, not only the fact that the idea might just lead to better health outcomes for seniors, but that they won’t have to frantically job hunt after graduation.
The Stride Tech team won the 2019 New Venture Challenge (NVC) and walked out of the Boulder Theater with $100,000 toward their invention and the opportunity to hobnob with venture capitalists, business leaders and more. Stride Tech was one of three undergraduate teams in the NVC finals, CU Boulder’s premier entrepreneurial startup competition, after emerging as the winner of the hardware track.
“I’m in shock,” said Stride Tech CEO and Engineering Plus senior Visos-Ely, who thought his team was the underdog. “I’m really, really excited and extremely happy. I'm ready to get to work. We have $100,000. I don’t need to look for a job when I graduate anymore. This is my job. We’re going to make this work.”
The Stride Tech team also includes fellow Engineering Plus students Max Watrous and Humsini Acharya, and mechanical engineering students Tom Saunders and Andrew Plum. The team was formed as part of the ‘Engineering for Social Innovation’ section of mechanical engineering senior design.
It’s a testament to the strong entrepreneurial spirit that is cultivated and thrives here in Boulder.” –First-time attendee
Other winning NVC11 teams included:
- Button Huggie (R&D Track/$45,000) A precision-engineered medical device designed to simplify care for a child's gastrostomy button and reduce gastrostomy-related complications.
- TissueForm (R&D Track/$12,500) A simple, low cost and long-lasting dermal filler technology that helps patients suffering from tissue disease, damage or aging. (Also Women’s Entrepreneurship Prize winner)
- Bright Wearables (Creative Industries Track/$10,000) Microchip-embedded fashion accessories that allow contact information to be passed to smartphones with just a tap of the phone.
- Nimb.ly (IT Track/$7,500) A software platform that helps catering companies keep their events efficiently staffed.
- KartWheel (General Track/$5,000) A specialized transportation company established to transport students with disabilities and injuries from their homes to specific buildings on campus.
- Gaia Glam (People’s Choice/$1,000) An all-natural glitter cosmetics company that provides an environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic glitter.
- Volta Irrigation (Social Impact Prize winner) A locally sourced, locally powered and community-driven irrigation hardware to help beat drought in Africa.
This year’s event had its usual sense of fun (and beer) at the art deco downtown theater.
The 5-minute pitch
As in years past, Brad Bernthal, associate professor in the Law School and director of the Silicon Flatirons Center’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, served as emcee. Bernthal was only slightly more subdued than last year as he wore a dark suit and shimmering black dress shirt. By the evening’s end, he was sporting Gaia Glam natural glitter on his face. (Because everyone deserves to sparkle responsibly.)
The format was the same: A four-judge panel of leaders in VC and startup investments listened to short pitches, and asked questions for five minutes. Then, the clock ticked for 20 unnerving minutes as the judges deliberated.
Like last year, the house was full—a detail that stood out to Pascal Krotee, an investment associate with Los Angeles-based Kairos Ventures. Her firm specializes in working with research universities, beginning with Caltech. This was her first time at the NVC.
“All the pitches were extremely polished, and delivered the information that investors like to see in a five-minute pitch,” Krotee said. “They delivered products that address pain points. Also, the showing from the community: 700 people. It’s a testament to the strong entrepreneurial spirit that is cultivated and thrives here in Boulder.”
The enthusiastic attendees, which included 350 community members, fuel the continued growth and success of the NVC and represented a record-breaking attendance.
Over 11 years, the NVC has provided funding to 60 ventures. This year, 120 CU Boulder teams participated compared to 515 over the prior decade. Some 75 ventures that have come through the NVC are still active and went on to attract $27.5 million in additional funding. Notable NVC alumni include: Mallinda, Stateless, HiveTech, and Specdrums.
The NVC Finals is the culmination of a range of entrepreneurial activities on campus. The Stride Tech team, for instance, participated in campus workshops on everything from marketing to manufacturing. At the Idea Forge and ITLL, they used 3D printing and electronics shops. They tapped the Leeds School of Business research desk and connections through entrepreneurship clubs to develop a business plan and determine market size.
For Terri Fiez, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, the NVC just keeps getting better and is a signature event that captures a campus well-positioned in a community bursting with entrepreneurial energy.
“It was just amazing,” Fiez said. “The fact that we had 350 community members here to support CU Boulder - and all of their mentorship - it’s just a multiplier for everything we’re doing.”
There’s another cause for celebration for Visos-Ely: his grandma.
The Stride Tech technology, called Smart Step, is a universally attachable walker accessory that detects and corrects dangerous walker use habits and monitors walking to generate actionable insights for a physician. The software displays the user’s walking health on a live dashboard and analyzes abnormal patterns so that a physician can better treat, diagnose and monitor their patients.
“I can’t wait to give her own Smart Step,” Visos-Ely said. “She’s going to love it.”