By Matt Watson
Just two months ago, Eric Ybarra was a student with a dream, skateboarding down the aisle at a student business contest before pitching an app he’s working on to a panel of local entrepreneurs.
Now Ybarra’s a college graduate, the winner of the December pitch contest held on the Auraria Campus and Colorado’s representative at the national round of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards competition, held in Dallas Feb. 9.
Matt Jaffe, president of the Colorado chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, was one of the judges of the December contest, which featured students from MSU Denver and the University of Colorado Denver competing for $5,000 in prizes and a spot at GSEA nationals.
“Everybody sees a lot of potential in Eric’s business. Not only for the market that they’re attacking right now, but how it could go into other markets,” Jaffe said. “We thought he had a great entrepreneurial spirit. He really represents that intersection of lifestyle and business that is unique in Colorado right now.”
Ybarra is in charge of marketing for a mobile app called Street Kingpins that allows skateboarders to upload personal highlights and tag them with geographic locations. Users can view each others highlights, find places to skate and see what tricks have been performed there, and rate other users to crown kingpins for different geographic areas, ranging from a single park to a worldwide leader. Users can then earn “Street Credit” and claim rewards such as skateboarding gear or even sponsorships.
Street Kingpins launched publicly in Apple’s App Store in March 2017 after three years of development. The app is expected to be available on Andriod devices soon. Ybarra, who graduated in December with a degree in business management and minor in entrepreneurship, joined founders Ian Smith (CEO) and Mark Hoyt (chief technical officer) last fall after working on a similar project on his own. He honed his pitch in a class taught by Travis Luther, an MSU Denver and CU Denver graduate who brought the pitch contest to campus and coached students ahead of the competition.
Ybarra credits MSU Denver’s Center for Innovation program, where Luther was once his professor, for nurturing his entrepreneurial skills. Ybarra also got an internship through the program working as a skateboard coach at Progresh, an indoor training facility for action sports, where he now works full time.
“The class and the mentorship helped incredibly, because there’s a lot that goes into this with the financial aspect and what people are looking for when they’re investing,” Ybarra said. “It gives you an idea of what other business minds and entrepreneurs are looking at and thinking about when you’re presenting.”
Street Kingpins gained 1,400 users in nine months without any paid advertising, with about a third of the user base in Denver and users scattered across the U.S. and five continents already. While the popularity of skateboarding has ebbed and flowed domestically for decades, the sport has a global awareness push coming thanks to its looming Olympic debut at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
“Before we started the project, we knew the 2020 Olympics were going to announce the first appearance of skateboarding,” Ybarra said. “Before that, we were already looking at the popularity of skateboarding in America, where it’s reached a couple peaks. When we look internationally, it’s something that’s building in almost every part of the world.”
That global growth prospect is what gives Ybarra a good chance at the GSEA national pitch contest, for which Luther has been preparing Ybarra one-on-one since December.
“One of the things I told the students is that we want to send that student who has the best chance to scale a business nationally or internationally. Apps tend to fall into that category because you don’t have to buy them at a local grocery store or anything,” Luther said. “Eric made an especially important point when he said skateboarding’s going to be in the Olympics. When you look what that did for snowboarding that really could drive that market.”
Ybarra is one of 27 finalists competing at GSEA’s U.S. nationals. The winner will be announced on the GSEA Facebook page and will advance to the GSEA global finals in Toronto in April.
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