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Speed Dating Gives Student Entrepreneurs a Shot at Long-Term Relationships

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Lorne Fultonberg


Lorne Fultonberg


303 871-2660


Could you blame Conor Orr for feeling intimidated, shy and a little nervous? It was a first date, after all, and he was going in blind, slightly hesitant to put himself out there.

But he took the microphone anyway and broke the ice. “I’m an art student, so this isn’t really my crowd,” he told his potential suitors. But Orr, like other student entrepreneurs, was ready to do some sweet talking.

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Software developer Hugh Hartigan introduces himself to students at the Project X-ITE speed dating event in March.

Potential matches stood at cocktail tables — developers, ideators and coders looking to start a serious, professional relationship with budding businesspeople.

“If I can make a connection that can turn this idea into a reality tonight, that would be brilliant,” said Orr, a junior who wants to market art therapy kits for grade school students who have experienced or witnessed trauma. “I have an idea, but I don’t have the skills yet, so I figured it would be interesting to come and get to meet these people.”

Playing matchmaker on this night was Project X-ITE, the University of Denver’s initiative to develop the next generation of innovators, technologists and entrepreneurs through collaboration, experimentation and connection.

With students from all disciplines in mind, Project X-ITE created the opportunity to “speed date,” delivering one-minute pitches to professionals with the experience to push their plans along.

“If you’re a student, you have some half-baked idea that’s been percolating in your head in its infancy,” said Erin Szulman, associate director of Project X-ITE. “This event is a way [for students] to continue developing their idea and meet other individuals who have either similar or different skill sets to help them further that idea and bring it close to fruition.”

Project X
Students and professionals network at Project X-ITE's speed dating event in March. (Photo: Travis Bartlett)

Orr, the art major, has the creative skills and experience with therapeutic media but lacks business acumen. Senior finance major Shawn Carlton can model the revenue stream for his Open Space app, but doesn’t know how to build it.

“I’m looking for connections to really get this thing off the ground,” Carlton said, referencing his app to connect people with fitness trainers who hold classes in public, outdoor venues. “Normally if you are only in finance or business classes like I am, you may not run into a lot of computer science people on campus. I thought I had a viable mobile application, and I want to find developers that can help me bring that idea to life.”

Developers, too, stood to gain, getting an inside track on projects with potential.

Project X-ITE is prepared to reward any monthlong collaboration with an appearance on its podcast — an incentive toward the end goal of a longer relationship.

But as in love, it all starts with a first date or a chance encounter. And Conor Orr left that night with phone numbers and email addresses in hand — a chance for a second “date” and the potential for his idea to become so much more.