Header Image: Lisa Padilla, CEO and co-founder of Beryl Therapeutics presents.The intermountain west innovation ecosystem came together at the fifth annual Destination Startup® showcase on Feb. 15 and 16, hosted by Venture Partners at CU Boulder. In a highly competitive field, 21 university ventures from intermountain west research institutions were selected to present at the showcase.
“It’s a great opportunity to get real, honest feedback from people that genuinely want to see you be successful,” said James Weltz, chief scientific officer of Cascade Biocatalysts Inc., which presented at the showcase. “It is both a friendly audience and an honest audience with real-world startup and venture experience. A true win-win!”
In the two-day event, ventures hoped to make a breakthrough connection with local investors and venture capitalists from across the United States.
“Every year, we seek to raise the bar on the quality of the ventures at the showcase, and 2023 was no exception,” said Stephen Miller, director of venture development at Venture Partners. “A record number of investors registered for and attended Destination Startup, and their initial feedback is that the entire slate of teams was venture-ready. In five years, I’ve never seen this much investor interest. It’s a fantastic opportunity for these startups.”
Bringing institutions together for greater impactIn addition to the participating Colorado research institutions (the University of Colorado Anschutz and Boulder, Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Denver), Destination Startup® welcomed startups from the University of Arizona and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Destination Startup’s participating universities collectively conduct about $4 billion in research and create about 75 startups each year,” said Brynmor Rees, associate vice chancellor for research and innovation and managing director of Venture Partners at CU Boulder. “The partnership among universities is a wonderful example of regional collaboration, building new opportunities and driving investor interest. CU Boulder is proud to play this leadership role in elevating research translation and economic development.”
Investors heard pitches seeking to advance sectors from agriculture and sustainability to therapeutics and advanced materials. From curing bad dog breath (uPetsia, Inc.) to reducing carbon emissions with a new microalgae-infused bio-concrete (Prometheus Materials), ventures presented world-changing solutions. “It’s a great venue to cut your teeth in front of real investors,” said Nicolás Anzellini, chief executive officer of Cardiost, which is developing a heart assist pump to treat patients with late-stage heart failure that affects millions.
Through a competitive application process, startups are paired with mentors and serial entrepreneurs from Venture Partners’ extensive coaching network. Startups worked to perfect their investment pitch in mentoring sessions while receiving expert guidance on their underlying business model and market journey.
Explore this year's participating ventures.
In just five years, impressive results
Venture Partners launched Destination Startup® in 2019 to attract investors that might otherwise miss potential ventures in Colorado and surrounding states.
Through Destination Startup®, from 2018-2022, over 70 new startup companies have been launched, and more than $400 million has been collectively raised by startups in venture, angel, strategic and grant funding.
”Our startups will soon pass the half-billion mark in total fundraising in just five years,” said Miller. “This pleasantly exceeds our expectations and validates our original assertion that there are lots of great investment opportunities emerging from our research institutions in this region. It’s not just limited to the coasts, and these innovators proved it.”
As an example of how far university startups can go, Max Perez, vice president of Infleqtion (previously ColdQuanta), delivered the keynote address at lunch. A CU Boulder spinout, Infleqtion raised $110 million last year to expand its operations and “to pivot to a broader view of what quantum is,” Perez said.
“As investors, we’ve been impressed with the growth in the quality of pitches and maturity of fundable companies at Destination Startup,” said Sally Hatcher, managing partner at Buff Gold Ventures, a private venture capital fund investing in startup companies connected to CU Boulder. “The program’s high-quality content and in-person energy certainly showcased how a startup pitch event can be even stronger coming out of COVID. We are enthusiastic about the funding opportunities for a number of companies and founders who presented.”
Destination Startup® 2023 was sponsored by Cooley LLP, Higginbotham, Silicon Valley Bank and Medmarc.
Applications to present at the 2024 Destination Startup® open in August 2023, and registration to attend the showcase will open in November.