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What: CU New Venture Challenge finals

When: Thursday, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Wolf Law, courtroom

More info:

The University of Colorado’s third annual New Venture Challenge will give three teams of local entrepreneurs a chance to compete for a cut of nearly $35,000.

This year’s competition grew by 50 percent from last year, with 33 business plans submitted.

A program that offers education, recognition and cash from local business leaders also offers a chance for entrepreneurs to develop their own business.

A group of local business owners, CEOs and attorneys narrowed the submissions to 15 teams that will face off in the semi-finals Thursday afternoon.

The top three teams will advance to the finals where the winners will receive $7,000 for first place, $3,000 for second and $2,000 for third.

Aside from the finalists, New Venture will provide prizes for best music business, best environmentally friendly idea and the team with the greatest benefit to humanity (a new feature this year).

Elizabeth Hartman, New Venture program coordinator and CU research associate, said while the financial gains are great for the entrepreneurs, the real benefit lies in the education and mentorship provided by the program.

Hartman said about 700 participants, including many students, attended several workshops over the past four months.

“I think the primary benefit is in the workshops,” Hartman said. “The idea is not to launch successful companies, but to get students thinking about launching successful businesses as they go into the future.”

In order to participate in the competition, each group is required to have at least one CU student on the team.

Hartman said the idea is to create a “more friendly, introductory, student version of TechStars,” a Boulder-based startup accelerator program.

About a third of the participating teams had already started their businesses by the time workshops began in October. The majority of competitors started from scratch with nothing more than an idea.

“Even for businesses already up and running,” Hartman said, “working through a plan, finances and a strategy is a really helpful thing.”

CU alumni Marc Simons co-founded a party clean-up service, Hangover Helpers, more than a year ago. He said participating in New Venture has already expanded their business.

Hangover Helpers began slowly, but has seen a minor job surge every weekend since the start of the spring semester, Simons said.

“This was an opportunity for us to learn about what this business could offer us and what we could actually do,” Simons said. “We’ve realized we can go bigger and further.”

Simons’s team has made it to the semi-finals and is looking to snag some of the prize money to help them develop the company.

Other teams are presenting ideas like a textbooks-for-sale website, Skype tutoring and a company that works with Habitat for Humanity to help students gain Leed Certification Experience for green building.

Last year’s winners, StrEAT Chefs, have become a popular mobile food trailer in Boulder since taking first place and $6,000 at New Venture.

Hartman said some teams don’t participate in the competition, but take advantage of the workshops, thus using the education as a building block to start a business.