Engaging discussions, events and installations cast a spotlight on DU’s robust entrepreneurship culture at first-ever Entrepreneurship Week

The first-ever Entrepreneurship Week took the University of Denver by storm Oct. 4–8, 2021. Presented by the Daniels College of Business’s Entrepreneurship@DU in partnership with Denver Startup Week, the many insightful events highlighted the robust creative community, innovative culture and dedication to social good at DU, and in Denver as a whole.

Monday, Oct. 4

The week’s festivities launched with a kick-off party and entrepreneur showcase on the Campus Green. DU students and other community members set up booths to share their burgeoning businesses, including apparel companies, bike services, food and more. Daniels Dean Vivek Choudhury and DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner stopped by to meet and mingle with students.

Tuesday, Oct. 5

Attendees at Entrepreneurship Week. Photo by Cullen McHale.

The second day of Entrepreneurship Week featured the Outdoor Recreation: Sustainability, Access and Opportunity panel, which highlighted how Colorado residents and visitors can enjoy the state’s world-famous recreational activities while still protecting its delicate natural resources.

Prior to the panel, moderator Scott McLagan, professor of the practice in the Department of Management at Daniels, discussed the intersection of sustainability in government, business and civil society. Marketing student Ben Burgert then kicked off the panel with an overview of his bike-refurbishing startup Ben’s Cycles.

During the panel, Robin Thurston, CEO of Outside, discussed the ways his company and properties are working to diversify the workforce and customer base of Outside’s content. Karen Sanford, chief legal officer of Alterra Mountain Company, discussed the for-profit side of these issues. She emphasized the ways in which the industry has made progress in climate change initiatives.

Michelle Zimmerman, former chair of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, discussed the importance of providing both education and access to places like national parks. COVENTURE founder Michael Lowe added to the conversation regarding increased traffic in places like public trails. He discussed the benefits of public-private partnerships in this field.

Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, discussed how businesses are using public resources without necessarily giving back to those public lands. He raised the question, “Who is taking care of these lands?”

Wednesday, Oct. 6

Joshua Ross

Director of Entrepreneurship@DU Joshua Ross. Photo by Cullen McHale.

Wednesday’s panel, Profit: The Byproduct of Purpose, addressed how modern businesses can pursue purpose- and passion-driven objectives while still running successful, and profitable, enterprises.

Dean Choudhury kicked things off by briefly discussing how purpose is woven into the fabric of Entrepreneurship@DU. Tricia Olsen, associate dean for undergraduate programs at Daniels, then moderated the discussion. 

PocketChange Founder and CEO Reyn Aubrey discussed how his passion for social impact is what turned him away from traditional entrepreneurship and toward purpose-driven ventures. Srikant Vasan, a managing partner at Avesta Fund, talked about how aligning impact with business attracts mission-driven employees and investors.

Delta Dental of Colorado CEO Helen Drexler shared how the benefits of capitalism are not accessible to all in an equitable way, while NPX Advisors Cofounder and Co-CEO Lindsey Beck talked about how NPX collaborates with nonprofits to mutually determine funding and timeline needs. Lastly, Minyoung Sohn, founder and director of private investment company Blue Room, discussed how his current startup is trying to leverage the power of human capital in ways that disrupt the corporate structure.

Thursday, Oct. 7

Thursday was all about art, culminating in a panel discussion called The Business of Art: How Creatives can Build Economic Value for Themselves.

From 6­­–7:15 p.m., installations throughout the first floor of the Community Commons showcased the artistic prowess of several DU departments, including art, emergent digital practices, theatre, and media, film and journalism studies. Attendees perused video displays, costume and set design sketches and more while mingling, enjoying food and drinks and listening to live music performed by students. Digital art was even projected on the outside of the building.

Panelists speak into microphones on stage at the Business of Art panel

Panelists speak at the Business of Art panel. Photo by Cullen McHale.

The panel began at 7:15 p.m. with David Moke, director of programming for the Denver Theatre District, asking questions on the subjects of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), social platforms, branding, technology and more.

Annie Phillips, founder of IRL Art, said she sees NFTs and cryptocurrency as fields with a lot of potential for how artists communicate, showcase their work and sell their pieces. She shared a resource document she made to help other artists utilize these technologies in their own careers. Artist and author Thomas “Detour” Evans talked about how he utilizes different platforms to showcase his work in different ways—for example, determining who his market is on Instagram versus Twitter or TikTok.

Shawna Schultz, co-founder and executive producer of Mass FX Media, discussed her decision to keep her company in Colorado, rather than the typical creative hubs on the coasts. “If you have the passion, the money will follow—but it comes with patience,” she said. Vince Kadlubek, a co-founder of Meow Wolf and Spatial Activations, discussed the journey of doing work that is anchored in your mission and always knowing the “why” behind your artistry.

Friday, Oct. 8

Clare Whetzel holding an oversized check awarding her $1,500

Clare Whetzel holding the winning check. Photo by Cullen McHale.

Entrepreneurship Week closed with a student pitch competition. Ten DU student teams pitched their emerging startup businesses to a panel of judges who would determine three ideas to win cash prizes. Students had to identify a problem that needed solving, a product or service that addresses that problem and their target market. The judges’ panel comprised representatives from the local business community, including Chesley Chen, chief executive officer of g.Root Biomedical Services; Mike Rizzuto, director of valuation and investment data at Techstars; Laurie Womer, vice president of sales and finance at Denver Tent; and Pioneer Venture Group Managing Partners Katherine Kourlis and Evans Hedges, also a current DU student.

Problems addressed included food waste, drunk driving, educational anxiety, mental health in sports, customer support chatbots and environmental devastation in the meat industry. Students pitched new ways of ridesharing, web extensions that support local business, a mixed reality zoo, diet-inclusive backpacking food, home-cooked meal-sharing, gamification in education and granola with mealworm protein.

After the judges’ deliberation, Clare Whetzel won first place and $1,500 for Illegal Oats, a line of granola infused with mealworm powder. Second place and $1,000 went to Claire Shaver with Pack Your Diet—lightweight, affordable and allergen-free backpacking meals for those with dietary restrictions. Kyle Barov’s Drink & Ride, a ridesharing and vehicle transportation service offered in one, earned the $500 third-place prize.

Daniels congratulates the pitch competition winners and everyone who participated in the inaugural Entrepreneurship Week. We hope to see everyone back for next year’s celebration of ideas, innovation and creativity.

About Entrepreneurship@DU

Entrepreneurship@DU gives students the freedom and the space to explore their interests, passions and purpose. The program encourages students and provides the support to think big, disrupt, solve problems and make an impact.­ Housed within the Daniels College of Business, Entrepreneurship@DU is a cross-disciplinary initiative open to all DU students across campus.