CSU connections help young alum build small business amid COVID-19 pandemic

CJ Jewell
CJ Jewell, a 2020 CSU grad, learned how to pivot as he began his career during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christopher Jewell already had a job lined up in the months before he was supposed to graduate from Colorado State University in May 2020, but in circumstances that were all too familiar that year, his plans were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

So, the graphic design major had to pivot: He started his own business. 

“I needed to figure out how to make money,” Jewell said. “I was applying for places, and it was a tough job market at that point in history, especially in my field. So, I started finding my own clients. Two turned into four, and then into eight, and then into 16. It was never really planned, it just kind of happened, and continued to grow.”

A little more than two years later, Jewell is the co-founder of a small business called Luminate Denver, which provides web development services to a wide variety of clients. 

This business is once again an example of Jewell’s ability to pivot. While he was doing graphic design work, he saw a need for web development support. He learned that skill, and it drove him to start his company. 

“Digital spaces are more important than they’ve ever been,” Jewell said. “There are more clients and more opportunities to grow.” 

Jewell credits his CSU network for helping him launch his business. When he was first doing freelance work, he says more than 70% of his clients were people he came to know through the University. 

He said his active presence on campus ultimately helped him make those connections, be it through working with Rocky Mountain Student Media, CoLab or at ASCSU. 

“The people at CSU were just as important as the classes,” Jewell said. “Making friends and going to events was super, super helpful for networking and having the resources to build a client base.”

He added: “I also had the opportunity to work in all these spots on campus and see how they were running marketing. There were so many in-house opportunities at CSU, and a wide variety of ways to learn outside the classroom.” 

At CSU, Jewell changed his major four times, from economics to graphic design to business and back to graphic design again. He said this wide variety of experiences helped him start a small business, and says other young alumni shouldn’t pigeonhole themselves into one area. 

“Make sure you try enough things, eventually one of them will hit for you,” he said. “And don’t be afraid to take risks. That’s the best part of life.”