The intermountain west innovation ecosystem was represented in full force at the 4th annual Venture Partners at CU Boulder Destination Startup® showcase on Feb. 16-17.
In hopes of making valuable connections to raise capital, 28 university ventures from research institutions across the region pitched to local investors and venture capitalists from both coasts and abroad. From early reports, this year’s showcase was an immense success.
“The fact that we had startups seeking $250,000 to $30 million in equity funding just demonstrates the wide range of opportunity presented by the best research-lab-based startups in the intermountain west," said Stephen Miller, director of venture development at Venture Partners. "If early conversations are any indication of future deals, we expect this year to set new records for investment."
Expanding participation through virtual engagement
For 2022, Destination Startup® shifted to a hybrid format, which increased engagement across the board. In addition to the participating Colorado research institutions (University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines and the National Institute for Standards and Technology in Boulder), Destination Startup® welcomed startups from the University of Arizona, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Montana State University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
More than 350 people—consisting of fellow university peers, entrepreneurs and community members—attended two days of pitches and Q&As both online and in-person at The Rally Hotel in Denver. Venture expertise ranged from aerospace and big data to therapeutics and sustainability, all focused on improving technology and well-being across sectors.
"By taking a regional approach, we are building value for investors. Destination Startup makes it easy by providing a curated pool of venture-ready startups in a single event," said Bryn Rees, associate vice chancellor for Research and Innovation and managing director of Venture Partners. "It's great timing too; our region has recently been dubbed the 'Mighty Middle' and includes the fastest growing areas for venture capital investment in the country."
Building valuable professional networks
As the saying goes, it's all about who you know. Destination Startup® is not only for pitches but for networking with fellow peers, potential investors and likeminded innovators. Terry Lowe, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Copper, LLC, met with top-notch investors and learned valuable tips from fellow entrepreneurs during the event.
“Destination Startup has been the most enjoyable and impactful venture conference I’ve attended since 2000,” said Lowe. His Colorado School of Mines spinout develops safe copper surfaces and powders that are instantly antimicrobial.
Representatives from Reglagene had a similar experience. The Arizona-based oncology drug discovery and development company pitched their state-of-the-art chemotherapy medicines that selectively kill cancer cells without the toxic side effects from traditional chemotherapies.
“It was Reglagene's first time attending Destination Startup, and I was very impressed with the event,” said Director of Operations Michael Abrahamson. “The happy hour events at the end of each session were a great way to connect with investors, service providers and other entrepreneurs throughout the intermountain west.”
Fostering innovation and market-based strategies
Venture Partners launched Destination Startup® in 2019, with the goal of attracting investors that might otherwise miss potential ventures in Colorado and surrounding states.
SARUS Lifting Co-Founder and CEO Dustin Ramsay is already experiencing the benefits of participating.
“Destination Startup® was an incredibly productive event for me as a founder where I strengthened relationships within the Rocky Mountain entrepreneurial community and initiated many new conversations that are already proving to be beneficial for myself and my company,” Ramsay said. “It was also just a ton of fun.”
During the application process, participants are paired with mentors from Venture Partners’ extensive network. Each company honed its investment pitch in practice sessions with mentors, often refining not only the company’s pitch but also its underlying business model and path to market.
Destination Startup® 2022 was sponsored by Cooley LLP, Higginbotham and Silicon Valley Bank.