During the last week of April, more than 60 attendees returned in-person to the CU Denver Business School’s Jake Jabs Event Center for the 21st year of THE CLIMB | Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition. The two-night event featured live pitch presentations, keynote speakers, a distinguished panel of judges, and networking opportunities open to the entire Denver community. As the competition’s finale, it celebrated the culmination of THE CLIMB’s series of educational workshops focused on business idea validation.
Hosted by the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship, THE CLIMB is designed to support entrepreneurial students and future business owners across the Front Range. This spring’s competition received nearly 30 applications, of which 12 semifinalist and six finalist teams were chosen, all composed of students from colleges and universities throughout Colorado. Three teams came out as winners, receiving a total of $20,000 in cash awards and in-kind prizes.
The $10,000 first-place prize went to SALUS, a platform that enables alcohol brands to offer cashback digital rebates to consumers at bars and restaurants. Trevor Needle, a CU Denver MBA student, came up with the idea and applied to THE CLIMB after years of working as a marketing and sales professional within the alcohol industry.
“I kept facing the same problem over the last few years, and THE CLIMB competition gave me the push (from both a networking and monetary perspective) to actually begin building out the solution to my problem,” said Needle. “While I built and pitched this project by myself, I quickly learned that in order to truly build and launch this idea, I can’t do it alone. … I was surprised by the camaraderie between all of the semifinalists and finalists, even though we were competing against one another.”– Trevor Needle, a CU Denver MBA student
SALUS also won the $1,000 People’s Choice Award. His idea received the most votes when attendees at THE CLIMB selected their favorite pitch through the online platform, Mentimeter.
“Winning both awards gave me the validation that this is indeed both a decent idea and that other people beyond my extended group of friends and family actually understood the problem and my solution to fix it,” he said. “I have already begun working with a liquor law consultant to understand all of the legalities and logistics needed to scale state-by-state, since this is a highly regulated industry. Once I [get approval] from the Colorado Liquor Board, the next step is to work with developers to build out our MVP and began testing.”
In second place, TesDriver, a Tesla car-rental company for rideshare drivers, took home the $5,000 prize. As another team of one in the competition, Colin Bessey, a nondegree graduate student at CU Denver, said it was an invaluable experience to pitch TesDriver on stage, meet with mentors and judges, and see the other teams’ innovative ideas.
“I was and am extremely excited about the other businesses I got to learn about,” he said. “The world will be a better place with the companies that I saw present, and I look forward to seeing what they go on to do.”
ECMO Optimized Clotting Solutions (EOCS) won the $1,000 Mission-Driven Award, sponsored by Joanne Posner-Mayer. EOCS’s mission is to catch dangerous blood clots in ECMO life-support machines before they can return to a patient’s blood circulation, which can cause life-threatening and expensive complications. Founders Cindy Hoang and Ian Garvin—CU Denver students in Biochemistry and Bioengineering, respectively—came up with the idea for their ECMO filter through their shared passion for medical device design, regulatory compliance, and entrepreneurship.
Jake Jabs, President and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse, returned again this year to serve as a judge and keynote speaker for Pitch Night. The first night also featured Olivia Omega, Entrepreneur in Residence at the Jake Jabs Center, as a keynote speaker. Olivia currently works as the Senior Director of Marketing Communications at the Denver Scholarship Foundation. She is a branding strategist and seasoned entrepreneur with over 20 years of brand positioning, digital marketing, communications, and advertising experience.
Judges for Pitch Night included event namesake, Jake Jabs, President and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse; Elle Bruno, Managing Director of the Techstars Boulder Accelerator; Joshua Pollack, founder and owner of the Bridge & Tunnel Restaurant Group; and Robin Thurston, chairman and CEO at Outside Inc. For semifinals, judges included Scott Dawson, Dean of the Business School; Theo Edmonds, Associate Dean for Transdisciplinary Research & Innovation at CAM; Karen Hertz, founder and Chief Brewista at Holidaily Brewing Company; Olivia Omega, Senior Director of Marketing Communications at the Denver Scholarship Foundation; and Allison Phillips, Chief Operating Officer at PAIRIN.
About THE CLIMB | Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition
Since 2001, THE CLIMB | Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition has supported the growth of collegiate startups and innovative ventures across the Front Range.
Backed by the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship at the CU Denver Business School and infamous entrepreneur, Jake Jabs, THE CLIMB is an annual pitch competition and event series that helps students and future business owners transform concepts into viable companies. It strives to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with the network and resources they need to succeed through mentorship, educational experiences, financial support, and real-world industry exchanges. With more than 600 mentor hours shared and $1.2 million awarded to date, the competition continues to grow and shape student experiences, local businesses, and the Colorado entrepreneurial community.
The Jake Jabs Center is thankful for THE CLIMB’s Platinum Sponsors, American Furniture Warehouse and Dorsey & Whitney LLP, and for its Gold Sponsors, Launch Pad Ventures, Joanne-Posner Mayer, and Chet Winter. We also thank our in-kind sponsor, Concept2Exit Consulting Group.
About the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship
The Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship (JJCE) is a multidisciplinary resource center located in the University of Colorado Denver Business School. Emphasizing real-world experience, JJCE is dedicated to educating and empowering undergraduate and graduate students to think and act entrepreneurially. Through its academic programs, student clubs, and events, the Center provides door-opening networking and mentorship opportunities for students of all backgrounds, whether they go on to launch their own startups or join existing organizations.
Sarah Soenke | Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship
303.315.8877 | firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: Photos and interviews with winners of THE CLIMB and/or Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship staff are available upon request.