Published: June 7, 2022

Deep tech cohort pitches progress after inaugural accelerator

13 startup company founders commercializing CU Boulder research innovations received a boost in 2022. Ascent, a startup accelerator specifically created for CU Boulder innovators, wrapped up with its inaugural cohort filled with founders who launch their companies, raise investment capital, and gain market and partnership traction. Run by Venture Partners at CU Boulder, Ascent provided a four-month intensive training to the university’s entrepreneurial researchers ending with a two-day capstone event on May 23-24.

“It was very exciting to see the development and “aha” moments for the teams during the program. We had program educators covering topics from fundraising and legal to sales management and PR,” said Nicole Forsberg, Business Development Executive at Venture Partners. “This was our first cohort, and a ‘startup’ for us as well, and we are excited to scale this up even more for future cohorts.”

Missed Demo Day? Watch each team's pitch!

Drilling deep into startup training

Companies that spin innovations out of university labs, sometimes called “deep tech” startups, face unique challenges. Because they disrupt established technologies, these new businesses often require more funding and longer periods to develop and bring their products to market. However, since the upside of breakthrough technology can be so substantial economically and socially (think sustainable energy, personalized medicine and quantum computing), the deep tech startup scene is rapidly growing, including here at CU Boulder. In 2021, CU Boulder tallied 20 new deep tech startups.

Venture Partners has designed the Ascent curriculum to meet the special challenges faced by deep tech startups, including those that come with being a founder at a university.

The startup "valley of death" feels particularly wide with deep tech or hard tech companies," said Emily Klein, Director of Venture Development for Venture Partners. "These companies need to validate many milestones, in both their technology and their business planning, before successfully bringing their tech to market."

All participants previously completed prerequisite training in CU Boulder’s I-Corps program, which helps innovators find market-fit for their innovations. Each participant then utilized this training to continue their startup journey during Ascent with specialized tracks that provide domain-specific content that aligns with company needs.

"Our regional I-Corps programs, Starting Blocks and Research-to-Market, support faculty, grad students and deep tech founders in the community in taking their first steps toward product-market fit," said Klein. "Ascent then ties together learnings from I-Corps into a network of mentors, business specialists and investors to accelerate our teams out of the lab and into the startup world."

Checking temperature on the market and the body

LumenAstra, a CU Boulder-based team headed by CEO Jim Pollock, joined the program to accelerate an internal core body temperature sensor. Possible applications include direct brain temperature measurement to decrease mortality risk during cardiac bypass surgery and identifying heat stress among athletes and military servicemen. With the toolkit assembled from 

Ascent, this early-stage company is preparing for FDA certification in 2023 to enter the highly competitive medical device market. While completing Ascent, LumenAstra, along with cohort member Vitro3D and five other campus startups, were awarded $250,000 each from state commercialization grants to support these high-risk investments.

“Thanks to the hard work and determination of all these teams, we are able to see more and more impactful success on Colorado’s economy,” said Venture Partners Director of Venture Development Stephen Miller at the in-person happy hour following the two-day online showcase.

Ascent is an official partnership between Venture Partners and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT).