Colorado University’s New Venture Challenge “is not the biggest, richest, or most polished of campus startup competitions,” Brad Bernthal wrote on www.xconomy.com, April 4. “But it makes an exceptionally high impact on those who participate.”
The NVC calls itself an entrepreneurial flight simulator. It was launched in 1998 in order to give anyone in the U. of Colorado community who thought they might like to start a business the opportunity to try while at the same time learning the process.
Bernthal directs the UC Law School’s research center for law, technology and entrepreneurship initiative and leads its entrepreneurial law clinic. He told IMR that the principal reason for starting the NVC was to change the campus culture by making it easy for students to connect with one another while immersing themselves in the surrounding startup scene through mentors and workshops.
That led to more than 200 people in 60 teams defying a snowstorm in April to compete for best startup in the fifth annual NVC annual championship. This anniversary prompted Bernthal to draw five lessons from the endeavor, which he insists almost anyone can emulate. Briefly:
1. Open the entrepreneurship experience to all parts of the campus.
2. Provide each startup team with an expert community mentor who is knowledgeable about the team’s area and can advise it on live issues that concern the team’s company.
3. Engage a campus fundraiser who can muster campus-wide enthusiasm and energy.
4. Highlight the diversity of problems entrepreneurs face by creating separate “tracks” for different types of startups; e.g., information technology, social entrepreneurship, music, or general. Each track winner then participates in the cross-campus championships. “This might be the best idea we’ve had,” Bernthal writes.
5. Allow entrepreneurship courses in all campus departments to be feeders for your own “entrepreneurial flight simulator.”
“As we’ve started to realize the culture change,” Bernthal told IMR, “we’re now getting more businesses that are, in my estimation, viable on an ongoing basis as well as fundable. This year’s competition had five companies that have a real chance to succeed.”