Translation startup wins big at CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge

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VerbalizeIt, a company that uses human translators and automation to allow businesses to communicate with global customers in their own language, outpitched 14 other competitors on May 30 to win the second annual CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge business pitch competition, earning a grand prize of $250,000 in cash, one year of entrepreneurship mentoring from Blue Ocean Enterprises, professional services, and other prizes.

VerbalizeIt is an eight-person team based in Boulder and New York City that contracts with 24,000 translators around the world to provide customized translation services in business areas such as marketing, customer service, and legal documents. The human element ensures the final product is appropriate to the audience and more nuanced than simple machine translations.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” said Kunal Sarda, co-founder of Verbalize It, who also appeared on TV’s “Shark Tank” last year. “Winning the CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge really puts all our hard work into perspective.”

The second-place prize of $25,000 in cash and professional services was awarded to Extrude to Fill LLC of Loveland, Colo., founded by Rick Fitzgerald and Ron Leach. The company has developed a new approach to injection molding, and Fitzgerald said that he is looking forward to using the professional services that are part of the prize package to help the company bring the patented technology to an industry that has changed little since the 1950s.

CSU companies in final rounds

Two companies with CSU ties — OptiEnz Sensors, founded by engineering professor Ken Reardon, and Membrane Protective Technologies, founded by Lisa Herickhoff, who did her undergraduate and master’s degree work in bio-agricultural sciences and cytogenetics at CSU — pitched in the quarter final round of the competition. OptiEnz move on to the semi-finals, but both were eliminated in the head-to-head competition by VerbalizeIt.

Curt Richardson, co-founder and chairman of Otter Products and Blue Ocean Enterprises, added to the excitement of the finals when he called an audible just before the winners were announced. He offered the competition’s two finalists the option of splitting the total winnings, awarding each team a guaranteed $137,500. For the split to happen, both teams had to agree independently. In true entrepreneurial fashion, VerbalizeIt and Extrude to Fill both declined the offer and went all in.

“You could look at it as a risk management decision,” said Kurt Hoeven, CEO of Blue Ocean Holdings and co-director of the Challenge. “It’s just another chance to practice being an entrepreneur, and I was glad to see that they both took some time to think about it.”

Native, a travel app backed by human assistants founded by students from the University of Colorado, won the Collegiate Competition of the CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge on May 27 and pitched in the seed round and the quarter finals of the Enterprise Competition on Saturday.

Trolley pitch winners

Chem with Ray, a tutoring app developed by CSU master’s student Ray Chard, won the $2,000 prize awarded for the Trolley Pitch, a speed pitch competition on the historic Fort Collins Municipal Railway Birney Car 21 trolley car on May 29. In this high-energy competition sponsored by OtterBox, 12 teams who competed in the Collegiate Competition boarded the trolley and pitched for as long as it took to ride to the next stop. The Space Research Company from CU, which plans to reduce the cost of conducting bioscience experiments in space with CubeSats, won the Trolley Pitch’s second prize of $1,000.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, whose Second District includes both Fort Collins and Boulder and himself a successful entrepreneur, kicked off the Trolley Pitches and rode with the competitors and judges up and down Mountain Avenue.

Wise Art Foods, a team from Colorado State that makes InfusiBoost food products, won the “Invest-in-Me” game for raising the most “Blue Bucks” from attendees at the weekend’s events, earning $2,000.

“Our congratulations go to VerbalizeIt, Extrude to Fill, and all of the teams that competed this year. We’re excited about the positive momentum this win will create for these companies,” said Christine Chin, co-director of the Challenge and interim director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship in the CSU College of Business. “Our sponsorship partners, judges, and volunteers worked for months to create an event that celebrates entrepreneurs from around the country, and we are grateful for their support.”

A collaboration between Blue Ocean Enterprises and Colorado State University, with major support from HP, Growth Curve Institute, ViaWest, FirstBank, the City of Fort Collins, EKS&H, and OtterBox, the Challenge was created to ignite entrepreneurial spirit, attract and recognize the best new business ideas, and celebrate the Fort Collins and Colorado entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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