Even the best-laid plans ...


2009 For-Profit Venture Winner
Rob McColgan (’02), Anthony Pigliacampo
Modmarket is a restaurant specializing in whole foods and simple recipes made from fresh ingredients, often locally sourced. The first location opened in Boulder, Colo., in 2009. There are now three Modmarkets in the Boulder-Denver area with a fourth expected to open this winter.

Lesson learned: Don’t sleep on real-estate opportunities
McColgan: “When we started the first Modmarket, we simply went out looking for the best location possible, and when we found it, we stopped looking at other real estate options for over a year. When we thought we had figured out operationally how to run the model, we went out and started looking at the best site available for location No. 2. Then we once again stopped until it was time to find another location. The problem with this strategy is it only works when you want to open one restaurant every year or longer. Once we were ready to open several Modmarkets in 2012, we found that the real estate options available were not ideal. We realized that evaluating real estate would have to be something we do constantly. Once you identify the most important aspects of growing your business, you need to make them a constant focus. Even if it seems like there are more important short-term things to concentrate on, you can never stop working on the items that will determine your long-term success.”

Por Fin Nuestra Casa

2007 Social Venture Winner
Pablo Nava (’08)
Spanish for “Finally a home of our own,” the organization seeks to offer poor residents of Mexican border cities affordable housing made from surplus shipping containers. After attracting investors and completing a prototype, the effort has stalled because of the escalating drug wars in northern Mexico. In the meantime, the four partners are exploring other markets and potential applications, such as emergency housing during natural disasters.

Lesson learned: Don’t jump at the first promising market; there may be better.
Nava: “When PFNC first developed, we saw many opportunities for using our homes throughout northern Mexico. Cuidad Juarez was one of the fastest-growing cities in North America. We spent many months networking, learning and integrating with Juarez and its policy makers. The fit seemed perfect. But a few months into the project, the notion of building in Tijuana was brought to our attention and proved to be a much stronger fit because it had dramatically more land constraints and would prove more receptive to our higher-occupancy ratio. We had spent too much time concentrating on the first strong fit and failed to consider what other fits might be available. Although both markets might prove to be future possibilities, Tijuana was the perfect starter community.”

Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE)

2009 Social Venture Winner
Elizabeth Scharpf (’99)

SHE aims to help women in developing countries start franchises that manufacture and distribute low-priced, high-quality, environmentally friendly sanitary pads made from local fibers. The organization is beginning to train women in Rwanda with assistance from that East African country’s government.

Lesson learned: Sometimes you have to educate your market first
Scharpf : “We spent most of our time early on working on product development, but since most of the purchasers would not be the end users, we realized we had to begin with health and hygiene education and advocacy to make stakeholders aware of the need for the product and the positive impact our LaunchPads would have on their daughters, wives, community and national economy overall. Also, you can’t go into a foreign country as an outside organization without local support. We needed to partner with a national leader and create a great team on the ground.”

SmarterShade (formerly SolarShade)

2007 For-Profit Venture Winner 
Will McLeod (’09, M.S. ’10), Mike Stacey (MBA ’07), Ryan Tatzel (’09)

SmarterShade is a glass-tinting system that enables any window to go from clear to dark with the touch of a button. This results in significant energy savings, glare control and immediate privacy. After winning several grants totaling about $1 million, developing a strong patent position, and assembling a manufacturing-and-distribution network, the founders are currently negotiating strategic partnerships to launch their first product.

Lesson learned: There are no shortcuts to customer discovery and product/market fit
Stacey: “We always knew that we had a great idea and that we could write a great business plan around it. We also knew that we had a technology that is extremely scalable to many markets and applications. However, we’ve learned that those are of little value without a clear understanding of product/market fit. This is achieved through a process every startup must go through. It involves talking to as many potential customers as possible and in some cases even getting “thrown out of the building.” We now believe we have discovered the right first-customers and market for our technology.”