Today is the kickoff event for the University of Colorado's New Venture Challenge. I'm very excited for NVC to get rolling again -- it's one of my favorite entreprenurial activities in Boulder.
As we get started, I wanted to offer a few tidbits that I hope will help you put the entire "challenge" in perspective and get the most out of it.
Forget the Pitch Competition
CUNVC ends with a pitch competition. It's one day, and yes, there's prize money involved, but almost every single one of you are going to lose. That's just the math of having one winner and more than one participant, and there's nothing you can do about it. If you go through the year with focused goal of "winning," you are probably going to be disappointed. (You can read more about my feelings about pitch competitions here.) So, for now, forget the endgame and focus on the journey. No matter what happens on the last day, the months leading up to it can be amazing. (Don't forget it completely, being able to pitch well is an ESSENTIAL skill in a CEO, and when the date is closer, we can think about winning.)
Attend Every Event Possible
During the course of the year, you are going to be given opportunites that are unheard of outside of startup towns like Boulder. Successful entrepreneurs from our community are going to come and teach classes to you (FOR FREE!) that companies pay thousands of dollars for. In the past, people like Nicole Glaros, Dave Cass, John Kembel, Zach Nies, and dozens of others have taught classes. If you're not impressed by that list, go Google those names and then come back. I'll wait...
Make the Most of the Mentors
I think I can speak for all the mentors in the program when I say that WE WANT YOU TO TALK TO US! That's why we're here. Don't be afraid. Don't hold back. We're big kids - we'll tell you if we're too busy. I am passionate about young entrepreneurs, and I get so much more out of it than I invest in the process. Everyone has their own reasons for being a mentor, but we are all unified in the desire to see you succeed and we want to help contribute to that. That being said, when you schedule time with a mentor, they are investing in your company. The investment is in time and energy, but time is a scarce resource, and that hour they're investing in you is an hour that would have been worth at least a couple hundred dollars elsewhere. So a couple basic rules: show up, be prepared, and listen to the advice. (You don't have to follow it, but hear what we say - even when it's difficult.)
How much to I want to mentor? Enough that I open my calendar up on Mondays so anyone can book time with me for any reason at all. Seriously, click here and come talk to me.
Do the Easy Stuff Right Away, and Keep Doing It
There are some basics that any startup (or CUNVC team) simply must have: a website, a twitter handle, a brand identity. This is easy. Get started this weekend and keep generating content all year. It's a habit that you'll need to keep up in every startup you ever launch, so you might as well make it routine today. (If you're not sure where to start with your online presence, I offered up some step-by-step instructions last year here and here.)
If you take nothing else from these suggestions, take this one: Have fun! There will never be a better time in your life to experiment with startup life. (And college is supposed to be about experimentation anyway, right?) In the future, you'll have jobs, families, kids (gasp!), and RESPONSIBILITIES. Launch a company, or two, or three while you're here. Whether you succeed or not, it should be FUN! And sure, winning CUNVC, going through Techstars, and raising a million dollars is a great story (congratulations, Devon and Lianne!), but it's not the only path. Look around the Boulder startup community and you'll see a bunch of people doing amazing things today who were in your shoes last year.