Bill Powell (MBA 2007, MS 2008) has been an executive in residence at DU since 2019. In 2020, he became an adjunct professor at the Daniels College of Business. Powel has lived in Denver for 18 years, after moving here from Stockholm, Sweden, in 2003. He has worked with alternative investments, including venture and private equity, as well as multiple startups since moving to Denver. Powell has served as the managing director of Black Lab X and general partner, advisor and mentor for Stadia Ventures. For Entrepreneurship@DU, he created and teaches EVM 3435: How to Realistically Fund Your Business, and also teaches EVM 3407: The Perfect Pitch. We sat down with Powell to discuss teaching entrepreneurship, lifelong learning and how his professional experience translates to educational practices.
Q: You started teaching at DU right around the start of the pandemic. What was that transition like?
A: Around the summer of 2020, Joshua Ross asked me to create a class about business formation for all types of entrepreneurs. It morphed into How to Realistically Fund Your Business. It was exciting to have a discussion take form and turn it into reality. As I had never taught the class, it was equally a startup in its own right. I was so lucky to have such awesome students the first go around—they provided invaluable feedback.
But then, leading up to that, he asked if I could teach The Perfect Pitch as well. I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” So, he handed me the materials and said, “Good luck!” What I thought was going to be easy was a lot of iteration on my part, which I enjoy immensely. Joshua is a great advisor, so it only gets better each time. It’s a highly engaging class with driven students—and I love being at DU. The pandemic was a different time, and it was challenging. But, now, it’s exciting—here I am in Margery Reed Hall and there is so much life on campus. It is just amazing.
Q: What challenges arise from being both an educator and a working professional?
A: My first class, only eight students showed up in-person out of 25 enrolled. The rest were all online. That was its own challenging situation. Working in venture capital and all kinds of startups, when you come to campus to teach a Sprint, it is a bit different from those other roles but in some ways, it is also similar. You can probably imagine that having three Zoom accounts, multiple Calendlys, the University has its own system, I had mine—it was a lot in the beginning, but DU made it so easy over time. And it is so exciting to be able to teach in-person.
Q: How has DU impacted your approach and attitudes toward entrepreneurship?
A: I have worked either as an intrapreneur, as an entrepreneur or on the capital side of the equation for the last 25+ years. I started on Wall Street at Deutsche Bank, where I was in the training program and then an intrapreneur on a project. After that, I had my hand in fintech and tech startups in Scandinavia.
I had experience with startups aplenty before I came to DU as a graduate student. I’m an “itchy” person—I can’t just sit around. So, coming to DU helped me channel that and naturally had a big influence on me. At that point in my career, I had never worked for an American company. What I learned at DU helped provide the building blocks of a formal business education that I never had. Prior to that, I just learned by doing. What I learned at DU was very profound from a financial, marketing and tech perspective.
I’m a lifelong learner. I thrive when learning and overcoming new challenges. For me, life is always about acquiring new knowledge and enabling the best in everyone around me. That is how you propel things forward.
Q: How does your attitude toward lifelong learning translate to your relationship with students of entrepreneurship?
A: One of the most valuable things I pulled out of Daniels, as well as the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the unique, hands-on expertise that my professors had. That was incredibly valuable to me at DU. The University engaged professors who were also, in real-time, executing on business and policy fronts. That was inspiring and a huge takeaway for me. I knew if I ever came back and taught, I would try and do it in the same vein.
My first go at teaching was when I was a senior in college. At Kenyon College, where I studied undergrad, I taught an intensive French language class my senior year. It was about 10–12 hours a week, and I was a double major. It was a lot of work, but it was valuable because I had just returned from France.
The same applies here—I’m a partner at Black Lab, which is based in Boulder. It is a venture ecosystem built to accelerate innovation in all fields touching the human mind, body and spirit. We are focused on people (thinkers and doers) who are addressing problems around “the human” using first principles thinking. Our investment themes include vitality, consciousness, community and the environment.
What I try to bring to DU, and why I teach these Sprints, is current to the market. The course material is directly relevant to the last 90–180 days, and it comes from how people are raising capital in the market right now. I am using current learnings and bringing those in as real-world examples in the classroom.
We are at an amazing convergence of trends—artificial intelligence, machine learning, AR/VR … I am very excited for the students coming through these programs and Sprints. We are making sure that everything is as current as possible. Gone are the days of someone handing you a paper pitch deck or PDF.