Jackie Ros, chief executive and co-founder of Revolar, pitches at the 2015 Techstars Boulder demo night. (Courtesy Paul Talbot/23rd Studios)

CU’s New Venture Challenge putting out ‘quality businesses’

BOULDER — For the co-founders of Revolar Inc., taking home the $10,000 top prize at the finals of the University of Colorado’s New Venture Challenge last spring was just the beginning of what has turned out to be a transformative 2015. But the startup’s experience in the NVC yielded far more than just a boost in cash.

While participating in the challenge, chief executive and co-founder Jackie Ros said, Revolar connected with officials for Techstars, who encouraged the company to apply for the startup accelerator. Fast-forward a few months, and Revolar is one of the latest graduates from Techstars’ Boulder program, which provides seed funding and mentorship to aid startups in fine-tuning business plans and connecting with investors.

Revolar is well on its way to a limited beta launch of its personal safety device this fall and then delivering 1,200 preorders taken during a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $83,000.

“For us, (the NVC) really did open the door to more mentoring and a bigger network in the long run,” Ros said in a recent interview.

Revolar’s rise is the latest proof that CU’s New Venture Challenge is doing far more than merely providing a novel learning experience for students interested in entrepreneurship.

“We’re really putting out a lot of quality businesses that come through the model, and that’s something we’re really trying to get the word out about,” said Andy Marchant, director of the NVC.

Now in its eighth year, the NVC is a campuswide entrepreneurship contest that culminates in spring with a pitch night and cash prizes for winning startups. The challenge will host its kickoff event at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24, at CU’s law school, with Workday vice president for corporate strategy Lisa Reeves and NVC alumnus Philip Taynton delivering keynote addresses about how to pick a startup idea and navigate the NVC experience. That’s followed by a pitch night in October where teams present their ideas and connect with others, as well as a mentor-matching night in November.

Teams entering the program must have at least one member who is either a current CU student, faculty or staff member, narrowing the focus slightly from past years when the program also accepted recent CU grads and their ideas.

Aside from Revolar, notable recent alumni of the program have included 2014 co-champion Mallinda, which landed a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to help develop moldable and remoldable protective gear for athletes; 2014 co-champion Pana (formerly Native), which also went through Techstars and closed a $1.35 million funding round; Boom Algae (formerly Superior Ecotech), a clean-tech firm that has raised about $195,000 in funding since winning the NVC in 2013; SnowGate, creator of a mobile-enabled outdoor ski rack and locker system that was acquired by national firm Best Lockers late last year; and 2013 NVC finalist Beneath the Ink, which went on to pitch in front of venture capitalists on the NBC television show “Shark Tank.”

“I’m always saying, ‘If you don’t have an idea, come here to build one with somebody,’ ” Marchant said. “If you have a great idea, come here so we can help you.”

A cross-campus collaboration from its inception, officials from CU’s business, music, engineering and law schools, as well as from the ATLAS Institute, created the New Venture Challenge with the notion that the university lacked a place where individuals on campus who wanted to start a company could get help launching their startups. Several more departments have jumped onboard with the NVC since.

Brad Bernthal, a CU law professor and director of the law school’s Silicon Flatirons Center’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, said various milestones – such as adding a mentorship component in Year 3 and creating industry tracks to better tailor the NVC experience for each team – have helped increase the value of the contest for participants.

In addition to providing the experience of the program itself, Bernthal said, the NVC has become a gateway of sorts to the resources offered at CU, a school increasingly recognized as one of the most entrepreneurial in the country.

“It’s become a clearinghouse for all things entrepreneurial on campus,” Bernthal said. “It attracts a lot of people, and then once they come we’re able to give them information on just how many resources there are across the campus and the Front Range.”

Revolar is reaping those benefits.

The company’s device allows users, if they feel they might be in an unsafe or threatening situation, to press a button to alert their emergency contacts that they might be in trouble. From there, contacts can call the users to make sure they’re OK, or call 911 if it’s an emergency. In addition to the initial alert, the Revolar device also sends out location information of the user.

The idea is one that Ros, a University of Florida graduate, has been working on for about three years after her sister was the victim of an attack. She initially bootstrapped the venture while working in the Denver area for Teach for America before eventually hooking up with co-founders Andrea Perdomo and CU grad Megan Espeland, who was familiar with the NVC and had the idea of entering the contest.

In addition to the mentorship and connections made during the NVC, Ros said, the diversity of ideas she was exposed to as part of the program was eye-opening.

“I really think the coolest part about the CU NVC is that, yes, it’s open to students and they get the opportunity to really step up and bring all of their potential and show what they’re capable of,” said Ros, who is on the CU business school’s Women’s Council and soon will begin mentoring CU undergrads. “But it’s also cool to see professors and seasoned veterans in their field present their companies. … In no other competition have I seen such a wide range of expertise.”

Joshua Lindenstein can be reached at 303-630-1943, 970-416-7343 or jlindenstein@bizwestmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joshlindenstein

BOULDER — For the co-founders of Revolar Inc., taking home the $10,000 top prize at the finals of the University of Colorado’s New Venture Challenge last spring was just the beginning of what has turned out to be a transformative 2015. But the startup’s experience in the NVC yielded far more than just a boost in cash.

While participating in the challenge, chief executive and co-founder Jackie Ros said, Revolar connected with officials for Techstars, who encouraged the company to apply for the startup accelerator. Fast-forward a few months, and Revolar is one of the latest graduates from Techstars’ Boulder program, which provides seed funding and mentorship to aid startups in fine-tuning business plans and connecting with investors.

Revolar is well on its way to a limited beta launch of its personal safety device this fall and then delivering 1,200 preorders taken during a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $83,000.

“For us, (the NVC) really did open the door to more mentoring and a bigger network in the long run,” Ros said in a recent interview.

Revolar’s rise is the latest proof that CU’s New Venture Challenge is doing far more than merely providing a novel learning experience for students interested in entrepreneurship.

“We’re really putting out a lot of quality businesses that come through the model, and that’s something we’re really trying to get the word out about,” said Andy Marchant, director of the NVC.

Now in its eighth…