Adam Cookson, DU alumnus and CEO of TekDry, joins us for a discussion about his experience in entrepreneurship, Shark Tank, and the path to it all, for this episode of Project X-ITE Sessions.
Adam co-founded TekDry while completing his Executive MBA at the University of Denver and hasn’t looked back. After appearing on Shark Tank, the popular show where entrepreneurs pitch to fierce investors, TekDry took off! Now in over 600 stores nationwide, Project X-ITE sat down with Adam to get a glimpse into the making of TekDry and the plans for the future.
Interviewed by Executive Director of Project X-ITE, Erik Mitisek, and Student Advisory Board member, Michael Bolland, Adam reinvigorates that entrepreneur spirit in us all.
Interviewed by Executive Director of Project X-ITE, Erik Mitisek, and Project X-ITE Student Advisory Board Member, Ciera Blehm, Josh shares the story of Craftsy’s founding and the challenges along the way.
Craftsy is vibrant global community of crafters and learners where online class enrollments number in the tens of millions. While classes range from baking to knitting, none of the four co-founders were able to do any of these crafts themselves. So, how did four guys interested in building an online learning platform find their way into a niche they had no experience in? Find out on this episode of X-ITE Sessions!
Stephen Haag is a Professor of the Practice in the Daniels College of Business, Director of Assurance Learning, and Faculty Director of Entrepreneurship. Haag joined the University of Denver in 1995 after earning a doctorate in information systems from the University of Texas at Arlington (1992).
Haag is a firm believer in the ability of entrepreneurship to unite and empower diverse communities. He emphasizes that “[t]he entrepreneurial spirit is the great equalizer in business… It can make a huge difference for those who wouldn’t have those opportunities otherwise.”
As a newly appointed Innovation Fellow, he is excited to bring his business background and position to the interdisciplinary group of Fellows including art, social work, and law. Haag is an advocate for fast-to-market entrepreneurship strategies, and focuses on helping start-ups build business organically, without loans or investor capital.
On campus, he oversees the Madden Challenge, an app-development contest for first-year students currently in its fifth year. Using the prize and seed money provided by Denver entrepreneur John W. Madden, Jr., four of those apps have successfully scaled up and entered the market. In an extension of that project, the Compass Project now reaches out to underprivileged high schools with limited resources to provide laptops, software, training, and mentorship. Students then join Madden Challenge teams and compete alongside university students in an exciting and positive exposure to higher education. Haag explains that the goal of the Compass Project is to help the next generation “define the direction of their own life, chart a course to get there, and make it happen.”
In his current position as Director of Assurance Learning, Haag defines and measures student learning and value for all Daniels programs.
Within Project X-ITE, he envisions success as enabling 20 to 30 student start-up businesses each year. “My goal is for students to create their own careers,” he explains, sharing in the pride and accomplishment students feel when they create their own business or a new market niche as self-employed entrepreneurs. He shares Project X-ITE’s vision to advance DU as the entrepreneurial hub of Denver, not only for students, but also for the benefit of businesses throughout the state.
Haag points out that these initiatives and learning experiences aren’t a one-way knowledge transfer to students. His piece of advice for DU students is to seek out roles where they can mentor more junior undergraduate or even high school students. For juniors, seniors, and graduate students, he says, “you’re expected to be a provider of knowledge, and that sharing needs to go both ways.” For DU students, being part of Project X-ITE isn’t merely an opportunity to learn: it’s also a way to impart experiences and contribute value.
Ultimately, Haag is driven by a passion for children and students of all ages, explaining that “[c]hildren are the future. We didn’t inherit this world from our parents — we have it on loan from our children. It’s our responsibility to make the world a better place for them, and the entrepreneurial spirit will play a key role in that.” He and his wife have two adopted daughters from Ukraine, and he dedicates his personal time to the support of an orphanage and medical clinic in Uganda.
Written by: Jenna Schmitt
Laleh Mehran is a Professor, Graduate Director in Emergent Digital Practices (EDP), and new Innovation Fellow at Project X-ITE. As a professor and artist, she embraced interdisciplinary opportunities to merge art, technology, and science long before Project X-ITE was formalized — so she was a natural fit for the team from the very beginning. After earning a Master of Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon University, she has created and exhibited art all over the world that uses science and technology to tackle issues of religion, culture, and diversity. As an Innovation Fellow, she plans to continue to facilitate the crossover between art and technology with the support and collaboration of the Project X-ITE community.
“I’m excited to weave in different perspectives,” Mehran says of her unique contribution to the program as a multicultural female artist. In science- and engineering-based fields not traditionally known for their disciplinary and individual diversity, one of Project X-ITE’s goals to promote a variety of perspectives to generate new and better ideas. Mehran says, “The program can facilitate multiple ways to look at these [STEM] areas to shift from some of the negative perceptions and even practices towards more open and accessible approaches.” She is already helping Project X-ITE find exciting new perspectives: when asked to nominate a candidate for the newly-formed Project X-ITE student board, Mehran identified a graduate art student from the university’s school of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (AHSS).
Another Project X-ITE connection Mehran facilitates with students is Projection Mapping DU, a university-wide club based in the EDP program. The club organizes student-created visual projections on buildings around campus using a mobile system (that involves a bicycle), and is excited to scale up its activities with new, interdepartmental support from Project X-ITE.
For students and faculty who aren’t already engaged in a Project X-ITE activity, Mehran acknowledges that the variety of campus activities makes it easy to miss new events. Her advice to students is to “Find a mentor and tell him or her about your dream projects. There is great satisfaction in being able to direct specific events, programs, and ideas to students I mentor.” Similarly, she encourages faculty from all departments to learn more about Project X-ITE opportunities in order to spread the word.
Mehran is also active in the Denver community as a whole, most recently exhibiting engineered and video art installations with other Middle Eastern artists in a show titled
“Presence: Reflections on the Middle East.” To her, the show reflects an attitude in Denver and in Project X-ITE of what it means to be comfortable and invited to have your perspective included not as a token but as an important addition to the narrative — regardless of gender, culture, or religion. Presence ran from February 3rd to April 8th, 2017 at Metropolitan State University’s Center for Visual Arts.
Overall, Mehran believes “Project X-ITE is an important initiative that brings together ideas of interdisciplinary study and collaboration at the heart of what scholars and students already do, but structures it a way where it more broadly impacts the DU and Denver community — it’s a great initiative.” Because Project X-ITE reflects and builds on the innovative culture already alive and well at DU, Mehran feels the program “is a small change with a big impact.”
More information on Mehran’s creative research can be found on her website: http://lalehmehran.com.
Written by: Jenna Schmitt
Luke Beatty, from Techstars to AOL to constructing a multi-million dollar company right here in Colorado, has quite the story. This Colorado native started in digital media where he found himself navigating the world of search. After experiencing many different companies, he decided to start a company called Associated Content, a crowdsourced media platform. Soon after, Associated Content was sold to Yahoo in 2010, where Luke stayed on for several years, eventually, moving to TechStarts in Boulder. After a quick jaunt, Luke had a pivotal role in revamping AOL and worked on the acquisition of AOL to Verizon. No question, Luke’s career has been to the moon and back.
Luke displays all the qualities of a self-starter and using his experiences to not only develop his own company but also revamp technology giants.
Interviewed by Executive Director of Project X-ITE, Erik Mitisek, and Student Innovation Fellow, Nathan Egan, Luke shares his story of experiencing companies, building a company, and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
Revolar is one of the hottest wearable startups in Colorado – the company makes a discrete wearable technology that clips onto your clothing. At the touch of a button, Revolar allows users to alert someone if they are in danger, trigger a phone to ring to excuse you from an uncomfortable situation, or send for help.
Jackie exemplifies all of the qualities of a great leader and innovator that we are looking to introduce to students, alumni, and broader Colorado community. From starting her career with Teach for America to launching her own wearable tech company, Jackie has an unrivaled story and tons of entrepreneurial advice for our listeners.
Interviewed by Executive Director of Project X-ITE, Erik Mitisek, and Student Innovation Fellow, Ryan Wells, Jackie shares the story of building Revolar and what she has learned along the way.
Alice Havill joins the Project X-ite team by way of New Zealand. She studied at the University of Auckland, earning a Bachelor of Engineering degree before her ambitions brought her to the states. Now at the University of Denver, Havill is pursing her MBA. She is also involved with Net Impact and the Women in Business organization at the Daniels College of Business.
Alice comes to DU with real-world experience in the engineering field. After her undergraduate studies, she spent 6 years with a renewable energy startup. The fast-paced technology development captivated her. As did the challenges she witnessed in transitioning from proof-of-concept to commercialization. Havill says that her desire to ease that transition is what pushed her to go back to school to obtain her MBA.
When asked how she thought Project X-ITE would benefit DU, Havill said:
Project X-ITE will help introduce DU students to the concept of entrepreneurial collaboration. We are only as strong as the skills we can bring together as a team, so learning how to share your professional capabilities with other professionals and in turn, appreciating the skill base brought by other team members is extremely valuable. Project X-ITE will also open up our pool of fresh and enthusiastic student minds to Denver’s startup and emerging tech industry so they can benefit from our high calibre knowledge pool.
Alice is looking forward to Project X-ITE’s cross-disciplinary socializing activities. In addition, she is excited about networking opportunities that allow students to informally hear from experienced entrepreneurs and possibly find mentors for their own startups.
When she’s not busy helping out with Xperiment or inspiring DU students with her own from-the-trenches entrepreneurial experience, Alice loves being in the mountains. She enjoys trail running, skiing, rock climbing, and mountain biking.
If you’re interested in becoming a part of the Project X-ITE team, contact us for more information
Anna grew up on a farm in New Salem, North Dakota. The work ethic instilled in her youth has carried over into her adult life. Bernhardt is involved in a number of organizations in the DU community including AIESEC, Chi Omega, Team 1864, the Dean’s Excellence Committee. She is a DU Law Student Ambassador 1L Representative and a group leader for Meeting of the Minds. All of that in addition to her studies and work with Project X-ITE!
When asked about her interest in innovation, tech, and entrepreneurship, Anna says,
“I believe that the future is most definitely powered by technology and innovation is the only way to keep humanity moving forward. Entrepreneurs are the driving force behind innovation, creating ground-breaking products and ideas that will continue to drive the economy, and frankly the world, forward.”
While Bernhardt, admittedly, has little experience with the innovation, tech, and entrepreneurship worlds, she is eager to get more involved through her work with Project X-ITE. Inspired by the vibrant start up community in Denver, Anna looks forward to connecting students across the DU campus as they embrace their entrepreneurial spirit.
“I am excited to see Project X-ITE break down the barriers between the different schools across campus by engaging in meaningful discussions and encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration.”
She believes the Project X-ITE summits and pop-up events will be great opportunities to do just that.
Despite her busy schedule, Anna recognizes the importance of balance and makes sure to factor in some down time for herself. She enjoys drinking coffee, reading fiction, and like most Colorado transplants, she has discovered a love for the Rockies and enjoys skiing whenever possible.
Ready to get involved with Project X-ITE? Contact us to learn more!
Marshall Miller is a senior at the University of Denver, working towards his B.S. in Computer Science. He is President of Dynamize, a student run entrepreneurship club, and he is a member of the Delta Iota chapter of Sigma Chi. He is also a member of the Project X-ITE student advisory board. Marshall is looking toward the future of business through entrepreneurship and works hard to help the local community.
Currently Marshall’s tasks with the student advisory board are focused on connecting students with events hosted by Project X-ITE, including speaking events with the upper echelon of Denver’s business leaders.
“I am confident that Project X-ITE will not only help the University of Denver to be a key player in Denver’s tech and innovation community but also it will inspire students to become more entrepreneurially minded.” says Miller.
Marshall describes Project X-ITE as a program that uses innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship to help the students, local businesses, and the community. In Marshall’s opinion the use of “cutting edge business practices and applied science” to bring in new ideas is an exciting thing to witness. Marshall spends time working with X-periment project as well. It’s a great fit for Miller as he is passionate about connecting new Denver businesses with students looking for work or experience.
A native of Portland, Marshall and has slowly but surely adjusted to Denver life. When he isn’t working toward his degree, Marshall enjoys drinking coffee, reading books, playing Settlers of Catan with friends, or pursuing his passion of web development. He also enjoys staying active.
If you’re interested in becoming a part of the Project X-ITE team, contact us for more information.