Business is booming
The Center for Entrepreneurship awards seed money for student businesses and offers support to the local community.
They had seven minutes to pitch their business ideas to a panel of three judges. On the line were a cash prize and important connections in the business world. Four students in Metropolitan State University of Denver’s College of Business were recently taking part in a pitch competition that was part of the Center for Entrepreneurship’s special event to show off its students to entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
Along with the pitch competition, the event celebrated the establishment of an endowment fund that will serve to enhance the academic program as well as the center. UMB Financial Corporation President, Chairman and CEO Mariner Kemper and his family, longtime supporters of MSU Denver and its Entrepreneurship program, funded the endowed chair.
“I’m looking forward to taking on additional research opportunities and also enhancing the center’s commitment to the students and community over the next several years,” said David Bechtold, associate professor of Management at MSU Denver and the first recipient of the Kemper Family Foundation Endowed Chair.
The Center for Entrepreneurship started in 2020, four years after the Entrepreneurship program launched. Since then, the program has awarded 128 bachelor’s degrees, and it has an enrollment of 246 students. “It’s been a rousing success,” Bechtold said.
And the prize goes to…
This year’s winner of the pitch competition was MSU Denver senior Ignacio Salas with his idea for a prototype for 100%-recycled and -recyclable plastic shipping pallets. He got the idea after working in the warehouse for his family’s business in Mexico, where he saw countless wooden and plastic pallets thrown in the trash.
More than half of all shipping pallets are thrown away after one use, usually because they go through an intense chemical wash that makes them unrecyclable. “The way my business idea works is to use the least amount of plastic to create a pallet,” Salas said.
He competed against Amber Mitchell, who was the runner-up in the competition with her idea, Fly Sold Separately, a vintage-clothing business that helps negate the environmental impact of fast fashion. Rosa Chavez and Sheila Hammonds each received honorable mentions.
Along with the pitches, five students had entries in a poster competition. Malachi and Brandy Ferdinand earned first place in the poster competition with their presentation for an auto-clamping car-phone charger. Runners-up included Danny Mazur, Ari Gibson, Vany Urpay and Yolanda Condorcahuana.
“It’s a great experience for students,” said Bechtold. “It’s a way for them to get some seed money for their businesses. And it’s a nice way of proving to the world that MSU Denver students can compete with anyone in the country because they’re hardworking, very, very smart and very capable.”
Salas, who graduated this spring, double-majoring in Finance and Management, transferred from New Albany University.
“I chose MSU Denver based on its location and the program that they had in Business,” he said, especially the recognized accreditation in Europe. “I manage international clients for my family’s company,” he said, “so that gives me a plus with them.”
Salas earned prize money of $2,500 to help launch his business. “Yes, there was prize money,” he said. “It was helpful to pay for my tuition, but at the end of the day, the most important thing or the biggest prize that I got was the connections I experienced and being able to share my idea with more people … getting the affirmation that I’m on the right track.”
There’s real opportunity behind these wins too. “It’s quite conceivable that (Salas) is going to get some support to actually start his business,” Bechtold said. And Mitchell was able to meet the CEO of ARC Thrift Stores, Lloyd Lewis, who matched the prize money she received from the competition.
“I think it really shows just how our students can create excitement in the community by supporting the community,” Bechtold said.
Supporting Denver’s entrepreneurs
The endowed chair will also lend support to Launch Denver, an MSU Denver-founded community-support program. Open to students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, Launch Denver is a free 10-week business-startup workshop and certificate program aimed at helping with writing business plans and pitch decks, securing funding for expansion and providing opportunities to collaborate with fellow entrepreneurs.
Launch Denver will host another pitch competition this fall, and the winners will go on to compete nationally.
Partnering with the World Trade Organization and its immigrant entrepreneurial programs, as well as Adelante Community Development, a Colorado nonprofit organization serving Latino families and entrepreneurs, Launch Denver also has aspirations to increase its Spanish-speaking participants.
This speaks to one of Bechtold’s goals as the awardee of the Kemper Family Foundation Endowed Chair. “Hopefully, because of the support I’m receiving,” he said, “I’ll be able to have the time and the resources behind me to strengthen those relationships and expand our community support beyond just the immediate MSU Denver students and alumni and faculty into much more of the community that, ultimately, we serve.”