Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative aims to strengthen CU’s startup power

System-based team working to boost connections, collaboration
By Staff

A re-energized CU system-based initiative aims to better connect and amplify the robust work in all phases of entrepreneurship taking place on all four campuses.

The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative has set goals of supporting CU’s innovative culture, boosting collaborative connections, and empowering faculty and staff engagement, and student success. The effort is based in the Office of Academic Affairs and led by Michael Lightner, vice president, and Ashley Tillman, director of the initiative.

“We've witnessed the profound impact of innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities on student outcomes and Colorado's economy,” said Massimo Ruzzene, vice chancellor for research and innovation and dean of the institutes at CU Boulder. “Our goal is to ensure every student experiences innovation and entrepreneurship through courses, academic programs, research or experiential learning.”

During the 2021-2022 academic year, CU launched an initiative to catalog existing innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) assets across the CU system and explore potential for growth. The process showed that CU has a robust ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship, with more than 140 programs across the four campuses. Click here to read the report.

UCCS hosts the only bachelor’s of innovation degrees in the country. CU Denver is pioneering the only master’s in entrepreneurship of its kind in the state. In 2019-2020, CU Anschutz-based CU Innovations startups raised $170 million and garnered more than 50 industry deals. In 2021, Venture Partners at CU Boulder had a record-breaking year with 20 new startups based on CU technology with $2.1 billion in capital raised. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) honored CU Boulder with an Innovation & Economic Prosperity Award in 2021.

The assessment of the success taking place across all four campuses led to the second phase of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative to help embolden the work being done on all four campuses.

Tillman said one goal is to capitalize on the CU system’s geographic proximity to a world-class startup community along the Front Range. Geographic advantages of the Front Range include expert mentorship, wealth creation associated with emerging companies, and attractive employment opportunities for students.

I&E also prepares individuals for desirable jobs. Research shows that having an entrepreneurial mindset boosts educational attainment and performance, is crucial for creating new businesses, and is valued by employers. I&E helps students gain entry to the informal networks that power entrepreneurial communities.

With the CU team having interviewed more than 80 I&E community members from the four campuses, and with an eye on becoming the top public institution for I&E, three initial focus areas were identified:

1. Lead the U.S. in innovations that address significant societal challenges. Empower faculty, students and staff to lead groundbreaking innovations and ventures.

2. Support a vibrant I&E ecosystem. Evolve and develop strategies and policies to promote collaborative, interdisciplinary, real-world-focused research that generates impactful intellectual property, including patents and royalties, while acknowledging the effort required for successful commercialization.

3. Ignite student success and opportunity through entrepreneurship and innovation. Ensure every student touches I&E through courses, academic programs, research and/or experiences.

To do this work in a way that elevates the richness, diversity and creative power of CU students, faculty and staff, we are asking for your feedback and response to two questions:

  • If you have not yet been contacted by the I&E team, what I&E work are you involved in that you would like to share?
  • From your experience, what’s needed to expand I&E education and practice on our campuses?

Let us know your thoughts by emailing