Seven teams pitched new startups after seven months of entrepreneurial training and guidance.
Seven university companies pitched to investors during the Pandemic Hyper-Accelerator for Science and Technology (PHAST) Demo Day on Jan. 25, hosted by Venture Partners at CU Boulder and Rockies Venture Club (RVC). This capstone event provided a chance for angel investors, venture capitalists and the startup community to evaluate pitches and discuss deal opportunities.
“We launched PHAST to bolster the translation of University of Colorado Boulder technologies into real-world solutions," said Bryn Rees, associate vice chancellor for Research and Innovation and managing director of Venture Partners. "Demo Day connected newly formed and accelerated startups to high caliber investors that will take these businesses to the next level. The partnership with RVC was critical to the success of PHAST, and we are looking forward to continuing to grow our collaboration."
Turning challenges into opportunities
Over the last two years, CU Boulder scientists and engineers have continued to innovate new solutions, many of which directly addressed challenges that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic. These technologies require entrepreneurial support and acceleration to rapidly be brought to market. Venture Partners—the university's commercialization arm—launched PHAST in June 2021 to support the translation of these CU Boulder-developed innovations into new businesses and contribute to economic recovery. However, at the end of the program, many teams changed their original concepts in order to enter a more viable market.
"Most of the teams in the cohort shifted from their initial focus, which demonstrates a very successful program," said Venture Partners PHAST Program Manager Daniel “Dano” Marshall. "The shift in the business direction keeps the teams from falling down a rabbit hole—it's all about knowing your customer."
Scientists and entrepreneurs received business training, funding and mentorship from seasoned Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs), including participating in RVC’s one-week HyperAccelerator.
"I was impressed by the hard work that the research teams and their EIRs put into this program, and they really succeeded in transforming academic research into commercially viable companies,” said Peter Adams, executive director of Rockies Venture Club.
Streamlining drug discovery
Vitro3D, a CU Boulder-based team headed by CEO Camila Uzcategui, PhD, joined the program with the initial intent of optimizing the cancer drug discovery process with innovative 3D printing techniques and materials to mimic the human body for clinical drug trials. After completing Venture Partners' Research-to-Market (R2M) sessions during the program, Vitro3D pivoted towards 3D-printed dental aligners. R2M teaches university startup founders how to find a product-to-market fit and is offered through CU Boulder’s I-Corps Hub.
“Participating in PHAST has been a pivotal inflection point for Vitro3D. The PHAST accelerator programming allowed us to develop aspects of our business that were not only missing but extremely important in preparing us for a pre-seed round of funding,” said Uzcategui. “We were able to develop a go-to-market strategy and build a network of mentors that have been instrumental in helping us with our commercialization strategy.”
On Demo Day, each team presented a five-minute pitch followed by a live Q&A. Investors and entrepreneurs from both CU Boulder and RVC communities then met to discuss pitches and potential opportunities, with many commending the professionalism and hard work exemplified by each team, reflected by investor interest in the companies following the event.
“Thanks to the exceptional commitment and tenacity of our incredible faculty innovators and the focus, guidance and wisdom of our entrepreneurs-in-residence, we ended with seven startups all capable of securing funding in the foreseeable future,” said Stephen Miller, director of venture development at Venture Partners.
PHAST was funded by grants from the Economic Development Administration and from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.