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Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship Tom Rankin

It was an odd sight in room 100 at Daniels Nov. 1, 2019: a bunch of seventh-graders sitting in front of Tom Rankin, a Daniels adjunct professor. They were from Ricks Center for Gifted Children from across DU’s campus–all abuzz with the kind of happy chatter you expect from kids when something new is afoot.

Before Rankin called things to order, he told a visiting adult about how this fits perfectly with two of Daniels’ values: diversity and inclusion as a source of strength, and learn through doing.

Daniels was acting on them by including the youngsters who were there to present what they’d been doing: planning three clever business ideas. Rankin’s point: Awesome things happen when values aren’t just discussed, but acted upon.

The relationship with Ricks began a couple of years ago when Stephen Haag, director for entrepreneurship at Daniels, began inviting an eighth-grader to take a class on newer technologies impacting the business world (robotics, 3D printing and others).

When one of those students, Nathan Reseigh, learned he was next in line to take the Daniels class, he was so excited he approached Haag almost daily about starting. Last winter, he did start it and loved it. In fact, he loved it so much that Reseigh’s teacher at Ricks, Steven Smith, felt compelled to spread that enthusiasm to his other students.

Director of Entrepreneurship Stephen Haag

He hit on the idea of holding a “Shark Tank”-style competition (based on ABC’s hit reality show where entrepreneurs pitch businesses to potential investors). This summer Smith met with Rankin to firm up the idea and Haag greenlighted it.

But then Rankin had another idea: Let Ricks teams compete with college-level students in the 2019 Madden Challenge, Daniels’ version of “Shark Tank.”

First though, the Ricks teams got in some practice with their “Shark Tank” on Nov. 1–appropriately the start of National Entrepreneurship Month. Three teams presented their ideas.

Team one offered flowers made from 100% recyclable paper, team two had food storage containers with magnetic lids and the third team baked cupcakes and other sweets for allergy sufferers. Team two won but judges said it was a close vote and praised them all for their work.

“I know it was a transformational experience for them,” Haag said.

Ricks students greeting the judges.

Yes, transformational and educational. Sophie Zotti, on team three, said, “I learned you have to think of creative ways to think around problems. Like, we had to learn different ways to substitute ingredients to get the result we wanted.”

Her teammate, Tilly Bauer, said even though their first cupcakes “were terrible, absolutely terrible,” she learned you can’t give up, “and that actually, failure isn’t always bad–it can be an advantage.”

A few days later, the three teams joined nearly 30 teams of Daniels students for the Madden Challenge and left a memorable mark. While a Daniels team won, each Ricks team earned first-place votes in four categories: biggest industry disruptor, fastest to market, biggest social impact and best sales pitch.

“The kids were amazing. They literally took their mindset to a whole new level–they turned their fear into hope so naturally,” Rankin said.

The winning team.

He added that plans are underway to have Ricks students compete again next year.

As for Reseigh, the impact of Daniels’ values is still obvious–still grateful for being included and for getting to learn in such a dynamic way.

Today he’s a freshman at Boulder High School, taking every business class he can get his hands on so he can study it in college.

“I’m definitely looking forward to showing the business teachers at Boulder High what I know,” he said.


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Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.