Published: Nov. 8, 2019 By

Key takeaways

 Startups need specialized talent to take them to their next phase of growth.

 After hearing startups complain they couldn’t find that talent, CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business started a new program to fill industry needs.

 High Growth Venture Fellows have worked on projects for companies such as TechStars.

After finishing his undergraduate degree, Carlos Peña was on a career track plenty of undergraduate business majors would salivate over.

Peña was still young, but he’d already worked at Deloitte as a valuation analyst, then at Accion Chicago as a senior loan officer. But he wanted something new and potentially even more exciting. He wanted in on the world of impact investing, or investing with an eye toward promoting social or environmental good.

“I wanted to be part of a small cohort of students passionate about the power of entrepreneurship,” Peña said. “And I wanted to do that somewhere with access to resources like accelerators, innovative startups and investors.”

After looking around, he found a new MBA program at CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business: the High-Growth Venture (HGV) Fellowship.

Peña was part of the program’s first cohort, graduating in 2019.

What’s a high-growth venture?

“HGVs are companies ambitiously going after double-digit growth and creating a scalable business model in order to significantly impact the market,” said Erick Mueller, executive director of the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship.

Basically, a high-growth venture is the next phase of a quickly growing startup company.

Those companies are all over Colorado, which led to conversations swirling around the business community: Could those companies sustain their meteoric growth?

The answer: not without some help.

Leeds School of Business

Leeds School of Business

“To scale up effectively requires a sophisticated business skill set, and many firms face significant challenges in going from startup to growth stage companies,” said Sharon Matusik, dean of the Leeds School of Business. “So, there is a real need for these skills.”

That’s a need few universities have been able to handle.

Fulfilling a need

Matusik, Mueller and thought-leaders from several Boulder-area companies like the Foundry Group came up with a program to get students real-world experience while giving companies well-trained employees who could help them navigate their next phase of growth.

“Getting to intern at Techstars and building a Series A valuation model for one of its portfolio companies was hugely impactful,” said Peña.

 I wanted to be part of a small cohort of students passionate about the power of entrepreneurship.” –Carlos Peña, fellowship graduate

As the program has a 100% post-graduation placement rate, companies are clearly finding the fellowship useful as well.

Peña, now a principal investor at the Beacon Fund, said the exposure he gained during the HGV Fellowship is paying dividends in a new career in impact investing.

“I learned how to quickly assess the drivers of value for new companies, and how to navigate the local entrepreneurship ecosystem,” he said. “As an early-stage impact investor, I need to constantly evaluate new business models. Having a strong local expert network and a solid understanding of the mechanics through which new ventures grow leads to a more effective due diligence process.”

Beyond his own experience, Peña said he found exactly what he was looking for in his cohort.

“I acquired a strong group of friends who are all passionate about the power of entrepreneurship to change the world.”

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