INterview with David Thomas, director of the Monfort Entrepreneurial Challenge

Friday January 13, 2017 0 comments Tags: David Thomas, Monfort Entrepreneurial Challenge, Monfort College of Business, UNC

David Thomas is assistant professor of management in the Monfort College of Business at the University of Northern Colorado and director of the annual Monfort Entrepreneurial Challenge. David_Thomas_photoUSE2_copy

Q: The eighth annual Monfort Entrepreneurial Challenge $50K Business Plan Competition event is underway, with a semifinal round of competition set for Jan. 21 and the final round scheduled for April 28. Why did UNC and Monfort College decide to get behind this event and what has been your role?

A: We have always envisioned an event that was different from the typical “pitch” contest in two key ways: first, an event that could encourage new venture owners to share their ideas with a group of likeminded individuals who could help them launch their venture. We’ve always seen the event’s primary purpose was to provide a platform for young entrepreneurs to launch their dream and a means to connect our students with the community of entrepreneurs who can provide them a network where students can explore their interests with these entrepreneurs.

The mission of the Entrepreneurship Program at UNC  “is to provide an entrepreneurial educational experience that prepares the student for a career in small business and the development of ethical business practices in an applied environment”…this event is perfectly aligned with this mission.

Q: Tell us how the event has unfolded over the last seven years; do you believe it has raised its profile to become one of the state’s premiere startup pitch events?

A: Our vision for this event was to create an event that had the potential to support the launch of a new venture by providing more than a pitch contest.  Since our beginning, we have always been committed to providing a platform for young entrepreneurs to gain exposure from potential investors, gain critical advice and feedback on their idea that can increase their chances for success, and provide new learning opportunities for our students to interface these emerging businesses.  In many cases the advice our judges provide have had a significant impact on their success.

The event started as a competition to help us position the UNC brand and our college of business.

Fortunately, the Monforts have been very generous in their support of the program. Their generosity raised the total winnings from 18,000 to the $50,000 we have today. The support from our former Dean, Don Gudmundson, was the events real champion. Under his leadership we expanded our marketing across the region and attracted Channel 9 as a major sponsor and media outlet. Channel 9 and Gregg Moss, the channel news anchor, had a significant impact on our early success.  Since then we have attracted many quality entrepreneurs who are looking for a chance to test their idea and improve their business model.

Q: What are the basic criteria for taking part in the Challenge? How do startups apply and what winnowing process is used to get to the semifinal stage?

A: Our event focused on supporting Colorado-based entrepreneurs in their pre-launch stage of their venture and have generated minimal sales.  We are most interested in helping new entrepreneurs who view the competition as an opportunity to broaden their exposure to potential funders and are looking for advice and consultation from our group of experienced judges…all of  whom have had startup experience and expertise in managing a new venture.

Q:  What are some of the higher profile companies that have gone on to success with help from the Challenge?

A: The Food Corridor, a Fort Collins company and the first online marketplace for food businesses to find commercial kitchen space, enabling efficiency, growth, and innovation in the food system. Founded by Ashley Colpaart, the marketplace provides online booking, payment processing, disbursement, and reviews to match food businesses without adequate production facilities with underutilized commercial kitchens who have available space, creating an access economy in the food industry.

Aerosol Devices, a Fort Collins company co-founded by Pat Keady, maker of an advanced scientific instrument for the collection of airborne particles for physical, chemical, and biological analysis. Aerosol Devices is bringing advanced aerosol collector technology to market to create better samples for better analysis in the lab.

“Our participation in the Entrepreneurial Challenge helped us formalize our business plan and refine our pitch to more effectively share our passion and vision for our advanced aerosol particle collector,” explained Keady. “In return, we received valuable feedback from the judges, greater exposure for our startup, and new networking opportunities. We will use the prize money for marketing activities to increase product awareness and accelerate sales. We plan to develop training videos and participate in two targeted exhibitions, one in China and one in the US. We are very grateful to UNC and the Monfort family for giving us this incredible opportunity.”

Two other companies, mcSquares a Broomfield company founded by Anthony Franco, maker of a portable dry erase board, designed to foster innovation through collaboration, and Planting Profits, a Masonville company founded by Gary Schneider that provides an online application to mathematically optimize and identify the most profitable combination of crops for farmers, also presented as finalists at the event.

Q: How does the Monfort Entrepreneurial Challenge benefit the state’s startup community and what do you see as its ongoing future impact?

A: Our participants confirm the major value to them is the exposure, that is, the opportunity to share their ideas and get advice from our judges, all of whom are small business experts, and a chance to attract seed money and in many cases, angel investors.

The future for the Entrepreneurial Challenge will be largely determined by the success of the winners who use their winnings to advance their business and the extent to which our students can learn and grow from their association with these new venture managers and of course, the Monfort Family’s continued commitment to fund the $50,000 in award funds.