Published: March 22, 2024

Photo: Greg Rieker (Paul M. Rady Mechanical Engineering) co-founder and CTO of LongPath Technologies presented the lunchtime keynote about his path from researcher to startup success.

The Intermountain West innovation ecosystem came together at the sixth annual Destination Startup Investor Showcase hosted by Venture Partners at CU Boulder. In a highly competitive field, twenty-three select ventures from the region’s research institutions presented at the showcase.

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One of the presenters at the 2024 Destination Startup® Investor Showcase was Galen Williams, who leads WHISPER Energy in bringing to market a wireless sensor platform invented by CU Boulder’s Gregor Henze (Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering) for reducing energy waste. Their battery-free sensors optimize energy consumption in homes and businesses by detecting human presence and adjusting usage accordingly. 

Williams, formerly an Embark Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Venture Partners, was at Destination Startup to pair up with climate-focused investors who gel with his company’s unique team and technology. It was also a welcome chance for him to swap stories with other founders and “learn about their technologies and paths to market,” he said. “Doing what we do, we rarely get to 'hang out'. Founders are a different breed and are too busy trying to save the world,” he said with a laugh.

At the event, other exciting and innovative ventures hoped to connect with dozens of investors and venture capitalists from across the United States. Those groundbreaking researchers, together with investors, are a growing force in catalyzing real-world impact. The showcase demonstrates a powerful way to advance innovative research and translate it into impactful business ventures. 

Stephen Miller, director of Destination Startup and venture development at Venture Partners, said that 48 investors attended this year’s event. “I think it reflects the quality and commercial readiness of our university spinouts,” he said. “Every one of these teams knows their potential customers and the market they're trying to serve in more detail than ever before. This is the most venture-ready group of startups we’ve ever had at Destination Startup.”

Adam Burrows, co-founder and managing director of Range Ventures, said the event was a great opportunity to “meet founders and build great connections with others in the local tech ecosystem. “Colorado is not a ‘look at me’ startup culture, and so many great companies are flying under the radar,” he said. “Events like Destination Startup are important venues to highlight the incredible companies being built here.”

Best of the West

In addition to the participating Colorado research institutions (the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Denver), Destination Startup also welcomed startups from Montana State University, University of Arizona, University of New Mexico and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). 

As usual, the event was a regional showcase highlighting the importance of CU Boulder’s partnerships with other institutions. “We’re just thrilled to be a catalyst for the region,” said Miller, “and to work side-by-side with our participating institutions to attract additional capital to an under-served part of the country. So much great innovation is happening in our universities and national labs, it’s important to put a spotlight on it.”

That diverse array of inventors represented a wide variety of industries, from AI, aerospace and clean tech to medical devices, therapeutics and vaccines. The ventures presented world-changing solutions from construction blocks used for sustainable, energy-efficient, fire and mold-resistant buildings (NREL-based Colorado Earth, LLC) to diagnostic technology that aims to revolutionize pre-clinical drug testing for neurodegenerative diseases (Neurofluidic Diagnostics). 

"My hope is to connect with an impact-minded investor or two that aligns with the vision," said Lisa Morey, founder and CEO of Colorado Earth. "I'm excited to present what Colorado Earth has achieved in the market to date, as well as to share recent insights and engagements on strategy and growth."

“We're thrilled to introduce a novel drug screening service tailored for both individual researchers and larger pre-clinical drug developers,” said Anja Kunze, a founder of Neurofluidic Diagnostics from Montana State University. The technology allows researchers to observe drug interactions and effects in real time, providing invaluable insights into their efficacy and potential side effects.

‘Great minds of our time’

Venture Partners launched Destination Startup several years ago to attract investors who might otherwise overlook ventures in Colorado and surrounding states. 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. 

Through Destination Startup, from 2018 to 2023, over 97 new startup companies have been launched, and more than $700 million has been collectively raised by startups in venture, angel, strategic and grant funding. Over that time, over 900 investors, business leaders and innovators from across the continent have participated in the program.

“The most exciting thing about Destination Startup is that these brilliant innovators are poised to change the world—attacking cancer, addressing climate change, cleaning our water and changing how we move about our environment—from guidance to fuels,” said Miller. “These are truly the great minds of our time, and it’s a privilege to be associated with them and do everything we can to advance their breakthrough solutions.”