Both First Place and People’s Choice awards went to an interactive study platform that creates a digital and gamified learning experience for STEM students.
By Sarah Soenke
DENVER (November 30, 2021) – More than 140 in-person and virtual attendees gathered in the Curtis Hotel’s Marco Polo Ballroom on Nov. 17th and 18th to watch aspiring entrepreneurs compete for cash and in-kind prizes. Typically an annual occurrence, this special two-night celebration marked the 20th anniversary of THE CLIMB | Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition. Students from Colorado universities, alumni, faculty, staff, and members from the community were invited to join this year’s expanded pitch event that helps future business owners transform concepts into viable companies.
Hosted by the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver), THE CLIMB SUMMIT showcased 12 semifinalists, six finalists, and their business ideas as they presented to a live panel of judges. Three teams came out as winners, receiving $33,500 in award money and in-kind prizes.
gamé-phi, an online platform for STEM students to learn through gamification and curated content, won the $20,000 first-place prize. Its mission is to empower students to master the hardest science classes so that they have the confidence to solve the world’s greatest challenges. Samantha Laird, an MBA student at the University of Denver, came up with the idea when she was struggling to get through an organic chemistry course as an undergraduate. This year, she teamed up with Cory Giltner, a software engineer, friend, and former classmate, to bring gamé-phi to life.
“This competition was a big breakthrough for us in terms of learning more about entrepreneurship and the business side of things,” said Laird. “I come from a design thinking background, and so we’ve been more focused on developing the product for the last nine months. Competing in THE CLIMB SUMMIT got us to think through our business model, our capital needs, and equity strategy. … It was really inspiring for us to meet other entrepreneurs who are in the same stage of their journey, to hear their ideas and see all of their hard work.”
gamé-phi also won the $1,000 People’s Choice Award. The team received the most votes when attendees of THE CLIMB SUMMIT, both in-person and virtual, chose their favorite business idea through the online platform, Mentimeter.
Taking the $10,000 second-place prize, Quasi is the second business idea from the minds of Bryce Peterson, a CU Denver MBA student, and Valerie Quirk to compete in THE CLIMB. They previously won first place in the Spring 2021 competition for their idea DiscoVR. In this semester’s competition, they pitched an easy-to-use web platform called Quasi that allows customers to send personal, QR-powered videos with physical greeting cards.
GhostPrint won the $2,500 Mission-Driven Award, sponsored by Joanne Posner-Mayer. Its Growing Gurus team is led by CU Denver MBA student Niko Dowling, CU Denver Marketing alum Oscar Maldonado, Evan Whitington, Ataiyo Viafora, and Stephanie Hill. As an eco-friendly lawn and garden care company, GhostPrint is creating a HomeBioGas ecosystem to power G3 Sanctuaries. Its biodigester technology captures methane and carbon and turns it into energy for cooking fuel, solid carbon-sequestering fertilizer, and eco-friendly liquid plant potion.
“[Winning this award] felt like all the work we put into our pitch had paid off,” said Dowling. “It was amazing to have my family and friends see that our idea is valued.”
These three winning teams came out on top of six finalist and 12 semifinalist teams, which were showcased on the first evening of the two-day competition.
The first night also featured a special panel of alumni from THE CLIMB and the Jake Jabs Center’s entrepreneurship program. Panelists included Rob Carpenter, founder and CEO at Valyant AI; Karen Hertz, founder and chief brewista at Holidaily Brewing Company; and Caleb Kioh, senior product manager at CenturyLink and founder of WalletGyde. Jung Park, MBA ’04 and fellow entrepreneur, moderated the discussion.
Judges for the final night of THE CLIMB SUMMIT included event namesake, Jake Jabs, president and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse; Joel Appel, owner of Launch Pad Ventures; Stephanie McCoy, COO of Wazee Street Capital Management; and Olivia Omega, senior director of marketing and communications at the Denver Scholarship Foundation. Jung Park and Sarah Engel, associate director at the Jake Jabs Center, were co-hosts for the event.
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 the entrepreneurial community across the Front Range.
In November, THE CLIMB SUMMIT was a special two-night event to showcase the competition’s two decades of alumni, loyal partners, and promising new student business ideas. Finalist teams will compete for more than $20,000 in cash and in-kind prizes. Backed by the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship at CU Denver and infamous entrepreneur, Jake Jabs, THE CLIMB is an annual event series that helps students and future business owners transform concepts into viable companies through mentorship, education, 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.
We are thankful for our Platinum Sponsors — American Furniture Warehouse and Dorsey & Whitney LLP, and our Gold Sponsors — Launch Pad Ventures, CU Denver’s Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), Joanne-Posner Mayer, and Chet Winter. We also thank our in-kind sponsors Concept2Exit Consulting Group and Vita Inclinata Technologies.
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.