In June, the CU Denver Business School announced the winners of the 11th annual Bard Center for Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition, which honors University of Colorado students and alumni who are new entrepreneurs, in this way encouraging new business creation in Colorado. For the first time in the competition’s history, two winners were chosen: Beautifuli.com, founded by Denise Horton and AppIt Ventures, founded by Rob Carpenter and Jeff Macco.
Selling Sustainable Lifestyles
Denise Horton’s business has yet to sell a single product—but, to her, it’s already a success.
Set to open in May 2013, her e-commerce company Beautifuli.com will market sustainable, high-end lifestyle products for women. Horton has identified more than 250 designers and artists to represent. In late April, she launched a landing page, where visitors can opt in to email communications, and began promoting Beautifuli via social media. To date, nearly 3,500 people are following the brand.
“There has been great momentum generated in just a few months,” said Horton, a Detroit native with a digital media technology degree from CU Boulder. “Just being able to say that my business plan tied for first in te Bard Center’s competition is a big calling card to open doors for me with the design community and potential investors.”
She has hired a staff of six women—three in Denver and three in New York City—to help her design, build and launch a digital marketplace for eco-luxury lifestyle products that are gentle on the environment and treat workers fairly.
“People don’t realize that the fashion industry is one of the biggest environmental polluters in the world, second behind Big Oil,” she said. “This industry has never been held accountable for what it’s done to the environment and to workers.”
Horton wants to raise the reputation of sustainable fashion, organic beauty, gifts and home products and appeal to a broader audience. On her sleek and strategic website, you won’t find hemp T-shirts, bamboo dresses and butterflies.
“For most women, style trumps sustainability, so if I don’t deliver the great style, women aren’t going to buy it,” she said.
To raise $200,000 in seed capital for the business, Horton is tapping into her growing network.
“The start-up, entrepreneur community in Denver and Boulder is probably one of strongest in U.S.,” she said. “I know that, at any point in time, there are people I can call, seminars I can attend and competitions like the Bard Center’s. As a rookie entrepreneur, this kind of support is invaluable.”
Advice to new entrepreneurs
From Beautifuli.com founder Denise Horton
- Get your idea out there through a competition, like the Bard Center’s.
- Make sure you have enough money, not just to launch but to pay bills until you get cash flow.
- Whatever it is you decide to do, love it. If you’re having fun, you always make more money.
Making a Profit with Apps
Fresh out of college, Jeff Macco invested his savings in a gold mine in Alaska—and lost almost everything.
“My first all-in bet I fell about as hard as a 23-year-old guy can fall,” said Macco, who fell victim to securities fraud. Twelve years later, it looks like his latest bet—AppIt Ventures—is paying off. In the six months since he and Rob Carpenter founded the mobile application development company, they’ve booked $33,000 in sales.
The company develops mobile applications—for smartphones and tablets—for clients on a variety of topics, such as playing guitar, writing a business plan, relieving stress through hypnosis and bidding on construction projects. While 70 to 80 percent of mobile apps never break even financially, AppIt’s first app broke even in three weeks, and their second in four weeks, Macco said.
Carpenter and Macco credit the quick success of their company to a clear and unique business model, informed by their experiences with the Bard Center for Entrepreneurship.
“The [Bard Center] business plan competition helped us refine our strategy,” said Macco, who graduated first in his MBA class at the CU Denver Business School. “We gained a wonderful network of experts,” said Carpenter, who’s been involved in entrepreneurial endeavors ever since he was a kid setting up lemonade stands in his hometown in Alaska.
Entering—and winning—the Bard Center competition also resulted in publicity and news coverage that led to a 300-percent increase in their client base.
“It’s really exciting,” Carpenter said. “We’re getting so many deals coming in that it’s allowed us to start creating jobs.”
“I sleep much better now,” Macco said with a smile.
Advice to new entrepreneurs
From AppIt Ventures founders Rob Carpenter and Jeff Macco
- Know your business plan inside and out.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. You learn more from your failures than your successes. Jump right in.
- Surround yourself with supportive people, and know when to ask for help.