The $100K Award At The CU Boulder New Venture Challenge

In the fall of 2007, my friend Phil Weiser, Executive Director of CU Boulder’s Silicon Flatirons Center, convened 25 leaders from CU Boulder and the Boulder / Denver startup community. We spent an afternoon talking about the idea of an entrepreneurial university. Phil called the meeting a Roundtable, even though the table was long and rectangular.

The discussion that day was heated. Some in the room that day questioned whether entrepreneurship should – or even could – be a significant part of CU Boulder. Others made the case for entrepreneurship. Few of us anticipated the level of follow up from that discussion and the report that emerged set the stage for a lot of activity at CU Boulder over the ensuing decade.

One of my suggestions at the 2007 Roundtable was to borrow some ideas from the MIT 100K competition, which was started in 1989 as the MIT $10k. I got involved as a judge in 1993 and was active through 1997 with occasional visits to the finals in subsequent years when I was around Boston. When I reflect on my investment activity, including companies that went through the MIT 10K (NetGenesis, Harmonix, abuzz, and a bunch of others), I probably should have just invested $25,000 in every finalist company over the last 25 years.

In 2008, a group of student and faculty volunteers from CU Boulder launched the CU New Venture Challenge. Nine years later, the CU NVC today provides a platform for anyone – faculty, staff or student – who wants to start a company. The NVC integrates the campus by including all schools and departments. Mentors from the Boulder / Denver startup scene are deeply involved and many companies are emerging from the NVC, including Revolar, Pana, and Malinda.

Amy and I have decided to help take the NVC to the next level. Our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) is teaming up with the Caruso Foundation (Dan & Cindy Caruso) to offer a $50,000 investment prize offered to the “Most Fundable Company” at the 2017 NVC 9 Championships. This is in addition to the $25,000 prize money that the NVC already has available. Jason Mendelson will select and announce the Most Fundable Company winner, who can elect to take investment in the form of a convertible note, at the NVC 9 Championship.

So, the CU NVC is now is $75k competition. Next step, $100k … Finals are Thursday, April 6, at 5:30pm.

Also published on Medium.

  • Wow, Brad, that’s great. Investing in the winners is neat. It certainly adds gravitas to the NVC… However, I encourage you and other thought-leaders to consider what the NVC does for the losers, who will necessarily vastly outnumber the winners. Too often startup communities mistake prizes for real capacity-building. The NVC is a much greater asset to its community when EVERYONE who is brave enough to compete gets valuable, structured feedback with which they can directly improve their business’s strategy. Or, get credible, negative feedback leading them to quickly abandon a doomed idea.

    • I strongly agree that it benefits everyone quite significantly. I don’t think anyone who enters and participates is a loser. And, the comment about feedback and engagement is key, and a central tenant to what Brad Bernthal has been driving for many years.

  • bradbernthal

    Three quick points:

    1. On behalf of those of us involved with the NVC at CU Boulder, thank you to you, Amy and the Carusos. This is awesome.

    2. To Adam’s helpful point below, the NVC has expanded its broad based impact in recent years. The mentor pool has never been stronger. Mentors now serve every NVC team that wants a mentor. This year’s IT Track had a full coaching session for each team rather than just a competition day. At the Women’s Track competition, each judge offered thoughts about what s/he could do for the team going forward. Proud that this type of individualized help reached 82 NVC companies this year. The NVC should be a starting point and a launch pad, not a finish line.

    3. The eye-catching size of the investment prize will help the NVC explore its next frontier – namely, get more of CU’s best and brightest researchers involved in entrepreneurship. There are about 10K “researchers” (broadly defined) at CU Boulder. More of them are interested in how to make an applied impact with their research. The NVC is a great place for them to start. The investment prize will encourage more of them to get involved in the NVC platform.

    Hope to see people this Thursday night at the NVC Championships. Grateful for your support! #noonegoesitalone


  • Dean Lindal

    This is an excellent idea. Having been involved with Keith Alper in helping a group EO acquired the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards… the incredible businesses that come out of Universities is genius. The beauty of the above is involving the entire university ecosystem. Incredible. I was just at the University of Victoria Ideas Festival and attended a 4 hour session from the creative arts program. I was fascinated by the notion that the MFA is the new MBA. We went from a panel discussion to a session with videography / film makers on campus went from department to department to do mini 1 minute and 5 minute movies on the research, businesses that were being started. It was a neat competition that showcased written work in video format. First year they did it but was cool.

  • WOW