The seed of the idea for Chica Chocolate was planted long before Cassidy Lam ’19 came to Colorado College, and her best friend Elise Morgan was there from the start.
Lam and Morgan, a student at the University of Colorado-Boulder, have been friends since seventh-grade gym class. Hanging out back then sometimes meant spending time together at Lam’s father’s acupuncture clinic. Among other things, her dad was using an herbal formula to treat patients who had complications with their menstrual cycles. However, some patients thought the Chinese herbs tasted bad and resisted taking them regularly. Then Lam’s dad met a friend who was getting his single-sourced, fair-trade chocolate business off the ground. That’s when the idea struck to blend the nasty-tasting herbs with sumptuous high-quality chocolate.
“The concept was to create a medicine that went down with a spoonful of sugar, basically. Elise and I adopted the idea,” Lam says.
But without Colorado College’s Big Idea startup pitch competition, Lam isn’t so sure they would have been successful in developing it further than just an idea. The Big Idea is a startup pitch competition where teams of CC students propose entrepreneurial ventures to a panel of judges for the chance to win a piece of the $50,000 prize money to fund their project.
“Before, it was just an idea; the Big Idea gave us the financial resources and deadline to get started on making it happen,” Lam says. “It motivated us to sit down and discover how to talk about our idea and define what would be our minimum viable product.”
Last year, Chica Chocolate took second place in the Big Idea and they returned this year to take first place and $25,000 in prize money at the sixth annual Big Idea competition, held Feb. 8 in the Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center.
The company’s chocolate truffles are infused with a Chinese herbal formula designed to promote hormone balance, and are delivered to customers on a subscription basis.
“It’s validating to have the support and realization that other people believe in what we’re doing and think it’s worthwhile,” says Lam, an international political economy major and Chinese minor. “We had more to lose this year; we’ve already built something and believe so strongly in our idea and are so passionate about the mission of our work.”
Seventeen teams registered for the Big Idea pitch competition in December, says CC Director of Innovation Dez Stone Menendez ’02. Of those, nine advanced to the semifinals in January and five made it to the finals. Additionally, several of the teams in previous competitions are still in operation, including Spindle, Flyphone, Colorado Springs Food Rescue, and Ogugu.
Participating in the Big Idea is a big undertaking with a potentially huge payoff. Each team that registers for the Big Idea is required to develop four documents as part of the competitive process: a core value statement, a one- to two-page executive summary of the startup, a slide presentation deck, and a business model spreadsheet.
But these are college students, not seasoned businesspeople, so along the way, CC provides a lot of resources for them to draw from.
One of these was the Big Idea Half-Block course, held in January between Winter Break and the official start of the Spring Semester. Taught by Menendez and Jake Eichengreen, executive director of the Quad Innovation Partnership, this workshop covered every element required to successfully compete in the Big Idea. The class, which was optional for teams entering the competition, took participants through an entrepreneurial boot camp, leading students from business idea to viable presentation and business model. The first week broke down the components needed to enter the competition, helping teams create their mission statements and executive summaries, and refining their ideas. The rest of the course had them creating their comprehensive slideshow presentation, called a “pitch deck” in the startup world.
To help prepare students to present, the class participated in the Career Center session “Improv Theatre, the Job Market, and You” led by Anne Braatas ’76, where they played improv games to help boost their confidence and energy while pitching. The students also practiced their pitches multiple times, presenting to each other and the instructors.
There also were pitch practice runs for those Big Idea semi-finalists were who not taking the class, as well as opportunities for formal feedback at the rough draft stage.
Taking second place in the competition and netting $15,000 in seed money was Raw Sauce, led by environmental science major Alex Harros ’18 and geology major George Fowlkes ’18. Raw Sauce is a sustainable fermented foods business with a goal of internally sourcing produce through their own hydroponic grow operation. The company tries to create food that causes no unnecessary harm from seed to sauce. To help convince the judges of the probiotic product’s merit, the team presented the judging panel, consisting of four Colorado College alumni and a retired entrepreneur, with chips and a sampling of the sauce.
In third place and receiving $10,000 in seed money was Momentics, led by physics major Alana Aamodt ’18, physics and studio art major Anna Gilbertson ’19, and Josie Eichers, a finance and international business student at the University of Minnesota. Aamodt, who was fascinated by Rube Goldberg-like machines as a child, well before she took her first physics class as a senior in high school, wishes there had been something like Momentics when she was growing up. Momentics is an open-ended toy kit for children ages 8-12 that leverages the viral culture of Rube Goldberg machines to engage and excite them about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) by upcycling old toys to create chain reaction machines. A Momentics kit includes not just the connecting pieces for Rube Goldberg machines but also printed programming materials and access to online video community challenges.
“The goal of the company is to build a world where fun doesn’t necessarily mean more, where people aren’t afraid to try and fail, and where physics can be accessible and appealing to everyone,” says Aamodt.
Two other teams also made it to the finals. LifExpectancy, an iPhone application that motivates people to live healthier lives by showing them how each health and wellness activity they partake in affects one common area — their life expectancy, and therefore future — featured Lauren Weiss ’21, an economics and computer science major, and Jack Hamren ’18, an economics major. NOWZ, a universal event aggregation app that utilizes augmented reality to display and filter local events, featured astrophysics major Deming Haines ’21, mathematics major Charlie Kellogg ’21, and computer science major Case Regan ’21.