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Business Showcase: Congo.io

Tell me how Congo was founded.

Congo emerged out of an entrepreneurial class at CU where two passionate students mobilized around an issue. Just before the class was given a project, Willy was reading a business law textbook in the library, which was peculiar for him. As he was reflecting with me the other day, it was this moment that serendipitously ignited an unforgettable journey. He came across a part of the textbook that didn’t explain it well and then went to Google. There was conflicting information, poorly designed websites and overall an extremely frustrating experience due to the lack of necessary information in a presentable manner. Appalled to find there was nothing to satisfy his curiosity, he then assumed there would be a way to video chat with an attorney, but there was no such thing. This was 2 years ago and couple months, where the problem was identified. The market and the fact that there was information you couldn’t find online beckoned at them. There idea was validated instantaneously when they already had lawyers asking to use their service. When their class project ended, Willy and his partner Tyler mutually agreed they wanted to continue what they started.

What have you guys found that made you guys successful?

The go-getter attitude is undeniably ingrained in Congo’s company culture. For example, Congo was at a tech conference where teams were standing at a booth showcasing their startups. Every team was just sitting around waiting for people to come to them while Congo was running around expending all their energy to make connections and network. Centered on a belief towards feeling obligated to solve a problem because nobody else will, can be exhausting. But the passion in every person on the team amps everyone up in a self-sustaining feedback loop. People get down, but there is always someone on the team who wants to keep pressing on. This type of perseverance is incomprehensible and emulates what any startup needs in order to fight for change.

Are you driven by the determination to succeed or the fear of failure?

What if there was no such thing as success or failure but just learning. There was comfortable learning and uncomfortable learning. Viewing the startup process as an uncomfortable learning situation makes it naturally more fun therefore being scared of failure is irrelevant to the value of the process. The team has had many uncomfortable learning experiences, which directly translate into growth in team chemistry and confidence. The belief in the vision of what Congo can do only gets stronger as the team continues to learn and grow together.

How will we interact with lawyers in the future?

Well our business model wont be valuable in the future due to the rapid growth of computer technology. Congo is based around the user and making what’s most effective and efficient for them. That’s the way Congo thinks as a company and they’ll be willing to adapt down the road. Right now the legal industry has yet to be disrupted through the democratization of lawyer consultation via an online platform. The future of lawyer consultation in the next couple years is to be able to manage your whole case online from finding your attorney to going through the legal processes to post case engagement. Possibly way far in the future, it may be just engaging with AI attorney, but Congo is aware of the trends and will be prepared to pivot to what serves its users best.

 

Why did your company apply to the Catalyze accelerator and how has it benefitted your company thus far?

Catalyze offers structure to the Congo family as well as a community of fellow entrepreneurs. The energy that this co-working space provides and the mentors that it offers are so valuable to a young early-stage startup. Catalyze is helping Congo gain some traction and is allowing them to approach investors with a little more than what they could before. This week over week progress is what’s accelerating their company forward and displaying a sense of urgency for Congo and its investors.

Spotlight: Fletcher Richman

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Fletcher Richman is a Co-Founder of Spark Boulder and Catalyze CU. He currently works at Galvanize Ventures.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

For Fletcher, being an entrepreneur and being an engineer are very interrelated but have one key difference. An engineer builds things for the technical challenge of the project, where an entrepreneur builds stuff that people will actually use. Therefore to build things that add value to other people’s lives is what being an entrepreneur is.

 What have you done that you feel differentiated you from the pack?

Fletcher says there is not one crazy or out of the ordinary thing that he did that made him successful. Although, their are a few simple small things that he tells everyone, which made surprisingly a big difference. One thing is to constantly look for new opportunities. There are so many events, activities, clubs to be apart of so don’t settle for just one. Second, is to say yes to everything. “You have a ton of free time. Say yes to every club, every activity and spread yourself super thin and then that forces you to choose the things you actually like.” This is one of the best ways to really find what you’re passionate about and find what you really like to do. Finally, one of the most important things to do is to follow through. People these days don’t respond to the emails they get, set meeting times and then don’t show up, or say they’re going to do something and then don’t. It seems like pretty simple stuff but surprisingly almost 98% of people don’t do these simple things, which Fletcher says for him made all the difference.

 What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur who is a freshman at CU Boulder?

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur as a freshman, that’s awesome, you’re ahead of the game. Being in Boulder is a great place for entrepreneurship so that also gives you a huge advantage. But have a good time as a freshman and sit on it for a year because most likely you will be working your tail off after that. Go to some events, maybe join a club but generally try to enjoy college for at least a year. Spend time trying to find what your passionate about and then go pursue that. Once you have an idea, don’t spend time making business plans or doing market research, just go make something.

 What ignited you to start Spark and Catalyze?

There are all sorts of amazing startups in Boulder and Fletcher wanted to add value to their lives in some way. These companies had a need that Fletcher realized he could help with. Fletcher identified this great startup scene was completely unrelated to the university. He had access to a ton of great students who otherwise didn’t really know how to engage in the startup community. It was then his mission to connect the two worlds by making it easier for students to connect to startups and for startups to connect with students. Spark was the culmination of his vision on how he could help the community at the time. The natural evolution once you brought these students into the entrepreneurship scene with things like Spark and New Venture Challenge was to keep them doing their projects during the summer and thus the Catalyze accelerator was founded.

 How do you see the Boulder Startup community evolving? How is Boulder going to pave the way? How is Spark going to be apart of that?

Boulder startup community is now being looked at as the model. Boulder is kind of the first thriving startup community outside of Silicon Valley. A lot of smaller ecosystems are looking to Boulder on how to succeed. One big thing you’re going to see is the connection between Boulder and Denver. There is only so much space and only so many people in Boulder, so you’re really going to see this cross-city collaboration.

 

Spotlight: Doug Smith

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Doug Smith is an alumnus of the College of Engineering and Applied Science with a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Doug about his vision to launch Catalyze as well as getting the inside scoop on his philosophy of being an entrepreneur in today’s fast paced business world.

 

From your experience being in the work field, how do you go about solving big problems?

Doug believes the first thing you have to do is understand what is going on. What is the true issue? Often having a firm understanding of the problem is the most challenging aspect in finding any solution. You get a lot of different perspectives from a lot of different people so not just accepting what initially seems obvious is the problem but really looking in deeper than that. Really identifying the problem from all possible angles is the most difficult piece because once you identify the problem and you know where you want to go, then you can figure out the steps in between.

 

What motivates you to solve those problems?

Part of what motivates Doug in solving problems is in his DNA as an engineer. That uneasy sense we feel when we’re aware there are problems means there is something out of balance. It’s un-nerving and trying to return it to stability just feels natural. Generally when solving problems you’re helping someone in the process and making sure you don’t hurt anyone else. Trying to do good and helping people is what Doug really enjoys about his line of work.

 

Do you feel responsible for solving problems in the world?

Doug believes having ownership of the problem itself is essential in coming up with innovative solutions. What Doug found as a differentiator was when you owned the problem and really cared about what was happening. “How closely do you identify with it, how much do you own it, how much of it becomes apart of you”; all are questions you need to ask yourself as an entrepreneur. There were times when Doug worked as a consultant in engineering on behalf of someone else where his obligations were to identify the solutions. It was up to his clients to decide the solution that they wanted and then he would help them implement it. But certainly there were times when he felt they were making the wrong choice and he would really advocate for what he felt was the right choice. That sometimes was good and other times bad. If he felt passionate enough about it, he would carry it through even if it wasn’t his job to do so. People tend to follow your leadership more and rally around the problem as a team when you are more attached to the problem. When Doug looks at hiring people to do things, if they really care about what they’re saying it helps him in choosing them to be part of his team. Doug chooses someone who is more passionate about a solution and an alternative then someone who is more distant and not engaged. Passion drives success and winning organizations.

 

Tell me how Catalyze was founded?

Doug and his team spoke to a host of schools to learn what they were doing and it was fascinating because whether it was USC, UCLA, CAL Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Arizona State, and the University of Washington they all had their unique genesis. Some programs emerged from the business school another from Engineering, one was Social studies; Catalyze came from engineering and business. But as Doug and his team talked to them and had some perceptions from Brad Feld’s book they gained a sense of what they wanted to do. Last spring when Catalyze CU was initiated, it was vital to incorporate that business and engineering mindset into Catlayze’s core principles. This is a short blurb of Doug talking with Dave Cohen and Brad Feld in regards to the genesis of Catalyze CU;

“Do you want to build businesses or teach these students?” We want to do both. “Well you can’t do that” Well I think we can. “No, you cant do that. You can do one or the other but not both”.

After the meeting they took a step back and talked amongst themselves. It came clear that Catalyze is associated with the University of Colorado-Boulder so the mission is in one sense education. Catalyze wants to help take their businesses to next level but also want to enrich the student experience. It’s important that students grow as people and also that they grow an understanding of entrepreneurism, and if someone else hires them they’re going to be ready for it.

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Try it! If you have an idea or see a solution, give it shot. Here is an example; were sitting in a restaurant and were wondering about our parking meter. Well I ought to have an app for that. It’s that kind of thing where you see and recognize a problem that exists in your everyday life and you come up with a solution. Well then pursue it and chase it down and get it done. It could be a social problem, it could be something in the lab that came up, or a problem that directly affects your everyday life, just get after it. Risk taking is the key to success.

 

What excites you about the next generation of entrepreneurs given the tools and resources you have built for them?

This next generation is still living and learning through experience like all generations before but they’re doing that much faster. Instead of saying you can only learn this much at this age, we are realizing that actually you can learn a lot more and so why not expose our young entrepreneurs to that. So I think what we’re seeing is a much less hierarchical, much less structured kind of business environment so that young people with great ideas can see them realized rapidly or fail quickly. Failure is a big part of this; but that’s great because they learn through the failure process. Whether these students are part of a startup or a big company, they are being exposed to real world activity, which significantly helps them to think outside the box. I remember being a younger engineer in a big company and thinking how lethargic and archaic it operated; we just weren’t in tune with our customers or what was going on. We were a legacy organization. Our students today are much better equipped because they have already gone through the innovation process, there is no mystery, and they get it. There is no secret sauce you have to have, its pretty straight forward. I’ve done it and I can do it here as well will be their attitude.

Business Showcase: Kitables

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This an automated Rubik’s Cube solver that you can build with a Kitables kit.

The company Kitables, builds DIY (do-it-yourself) kits for people who like to build things. They ship the equipment and instructions necessary to construct tons of cool projects. Kitables, like most other startups, came out of series of strange events. Arieann, the Co-Founder and CEO of Kitables, was at another start-up at the time when the CEO of that company had her making various chemical crystals. Her boss recommended selling how to make these crystals in a kit. Originally, Arieann brushed of the idea of selling these crystals in kits but on her birthday while driving up to the mountains it all clicked. She thought the idea wouldn’t work because she would run out of ideas on what to kit, but when she realized there was a website of instructables for seemingly infinite amount of projects, she knew she had something. Thoughts of the business flowed through her mind instantaneously. The name Kitables was formed and along with the tag line “get your DIY on”.

Then after sharing this idea with the rest of her start-up, the team transitioned to this new promising vision. They launched a Kickstarter campaign, raised money and gained a community. It all seemed like a new beginning for the team but then problems arose with the initial Founders and the team started to fall apart. Shortly after, it was just Arieann and her idea. Arieann then posted a job on Craig’s list where she met Malcolm. Arieann pitched Malcolm the idea over coffee and the two of them instantly hit it off. They both share a deep passion for building things. They mutually agreed that their skills were very complementary and the new Kitables team was formed.

Arieann and Malcolm grew up using their hands and building things. Being an engineer and making things came very naturally to them but they didn’t want to limit the things that they would build. Making kits for millions of different things to build was very appealing to them. They wanted to share their love of building things with the world by making the maker movement trendier and in order to do this, they needed to make it easier to adopt. They want to ship out kits in ascetically appealing packages with all the tools and instructions necessary to become apart of this DIY community. They understand that people like to build fun challenging things but the process of obtaining the challenge is hard to come by. They believe that the DIY community has many things to build for kids but a lack of more challenging things for adults. Their mission is to create kits for adults by increasing the challenge in the kits. They’re both already involved in this maker movement and believe there is something missing from this community. They wished there was something like this out there when they were younger and that it is why they’re passionate and driven about this company.

Arieann and Malcolm are very grateful for the opportunity to be apart of Catalyze as they saw it was necessary to get there prototype out for their Kickstarter campaign. They plan to utilize the mentorship that Catalyze offers to give them a greater understanding of how to market their products. Also the Kitables team is highly technical so getting access to the more business side on how to build a product is very valuable to them. This is a highly motivated and talented team which is why we believe that Kitables is going to revolutionize how to build complex things.

Spotlight: Eben Johnson

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This is Eben, a world-class doer.

Eben is a guy who knows how to make things happen. Eben describes his perceptional advantage as an entrepreneur from his firm understanding of both engineering and business. This unique lens emerged from receiving a B.S in industrial management operations research from Carnegie Mellon as well as an M.B.A from UC Davis. His core philosophy behind his line of work is that “all of our needs as humans have been known to us since the beginning of time, our job is to bring new novel solutions.” Being an entrepreneur for Eben is part of who he is as an individual. Eben describes his technical problem solving ability as knowing that it is the “intersection of business and engineering” that allows him to tackle challenges. He has been a Co-Founder, Founder, and the first employee for about 7 different startups. He lives, eats and breathes the start-up world.

Eben thinks Americans are too insulated and takes it as his responsibility to prepare our engineers for the real world. When asked how he prepares the next generation of entrepreneurs, he mentioned, “Many of the engineers know how to do something. I am trying to suggest to them why.” Eben sees the big picture with things yet also has enough technical understanding to get things done. For any young entrepreneur out there, this is a guy you want to get to know.

One of the early founders of Catalyze approached Eben about getting involved with the program. Eben immediately knew this was something he was passionate about and took on the role last year as Managing Director. This year Eben is considered a super-mentor and teams like Big-Blue use him as an advisor on how industry and manufacturing work. Eben specifically likes electro mechanical manufactured goods and says he loves things made in factories.

He views Catalyze like any start-up. He envisions a lot of growth for what this accelerator can offer students and faculty. More people are becoming aware of what this program adds to the community. And like any other start-up it has shown growth, given there were more teams this year than last year. Eben thinks this is a very promising program in the Boulder community. He hopes that Catalyze can find its niche in this start-up community and offer value. He has a lot of faith in Mark as a Director and believes in what he can accomplish this year as he now has another year under his belt. The best is yet to be for entrepreneurship in Boulder, Colorado.

 

 

 

Business Showcase: GoodEats Meats

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Meet Sam Traub and Matt Higgins with GoodEats Meats who bring everything smoked BBQ to life.

The two founders of GoodEats Meats have a strong friendship that started in the Bay Area of California where they grew up together. Now they have embarked on a mission to bring homemade BBQ to Boulder and the world in convenient form, to be shared in the comfort of one’s own home.

The company was inspired by Matt’s passion for smoked BBQ. He started by cooking high quality, smoked pork that would satisfy any BBQ connoisseur. After two years doing odd jobs around town he finally had enough to buy the smoker and thus he began researching the process and crafting quality smoked BBQ. As Matt’s skill improved, word of his expertise got out. GoodEats Meats quickly became the go-to for supplying the food at gatherings of family and friends.

As word travelled – first among friends, and then friends of friends – Matt and Sam realized that they had stumbled upon an opportunity. As college students they realized that hosting catered parties was really expensive, and preparing everything from scratch was ridiculously time consuming. Enter GoodEats Meats, the perfect combination of BBQ and business expertise.

Founded in February 2015, GoodEats set out with the intention of making the average Joe a professional BBQ smoker. Their tagline, “Fresh, home made, done right” epitomises their mission. Matt and Sam spend over 48 hours marinating, smoking and preparing each batch, so that you can have it ready in two minutes.

GoodEats was founded on trust, passion, and honesty. For them, transparency – in every sense of the word – is a commitment that they make to each and every customer. These values are displayed not only in the business side of their venture but down to the packaging of their product. They have packaged the sauce separately from the meat so that each customer can see the quality of the product and have the convenience of adding the sauce themselves. Sam says “BBQ isn’t just about the sauce. The sauce should complement the meat but the meat itself needs to have the right smoky flavor.”

Sam and Matt both believe that Catalyze will allow them to take their business to the next level.  What they value most is that Catalyze offers a culture that fosters creativity and innovation by allowing cross team collaboration as well access to a vast array of mentors. GoodEats Meats is in there infancy as a company but with a huge demand for their product there consumers are excited for the company’s growth so that their fresh homemade BBQ can be shared with the world.