Entrepreneurship calls to mind nimble startups with five employees, LaCroix in the refrigerator and an innovative new idea, not creating major impact at a 150-year-old institution with 3,000 employees and almost 34,000 students. But it has found a home at Colorado State University’s College of Business, where the Institute for Entrepreneurship helps students, faculty and community members develop business ideas and launch exciting new ventures.
Institute Director Scott Shrake’s zero-barriers approach to entrepreneurship has helped hundreds of budding entrepreneurs refine their ideas, grow their business plans and determine if there is, in fact, a there there. Now, this innovative, inclusive approach to entrepreneurship has earned Shrake a place on ColoradoBiz magazine’s 2020 Top 50 GenXYZers and Top 25 Most Influential Young Professionals list.
From Engineer to Entrepreneur
Although Shrake has been an entrepreneur for many years, he didn’t begin his career as one. After earning his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Pittsburgh’s Sustainability and Green Design Group, he moved to Arizona to direct the Engineering Projects in Community Service program at Arizona State University. He cofounded his first company while there—a digital medical device company—and then leaned fully into entrepreneurship, becoming the executive director of entrepreneurial advancement at ASU.
When the opportunity to join the College’s Institute for Entrepreneurship came up in 2018, Shrake jumped at the chance. In his two years at CSU, he’s launched numerous new programs and initiatives through the Institute and helped hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members try their hands at entrepreneurship.
“I’m trying to find the balance between higher education, industry and startups,” he said. “I want to enable people to be the best versions of themselves possible and start ventures that make the world a better place.”
Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs Jill Terry, who nominated Shrake for the award, said that ability to bring together stakeholders across the public, private and educational sectors has created a unique and valuable venture development platform at CSU.
“Scott has been able to break down long-held barriers to bring together groups of innovators and has, in a very short time, been able to bring about change in the Institute and is a major influencer across the campus and community in this space,” Terry said in her nomination. “Scott’s ‘zero-barriers’ vision is designed to support all interested students, faculty, staff and community members by providing access to the Institute and its resources.”
A Zero-Barriers Approach
Shrake describes entrepreneurship as opportunity recognition meets value creation. By making things that people want and filling gaps in the marketplace that are either unfilled or imperfectly met, entrepreneurs drive innovation in every industry. And by not accepting the status quo, they “push society to be better,” Shrake said.
His “zero-barriers” approach to entrepreneurship encourages anyone who is interested to bring their idea to the Institute. He emphasizes that although entrepreneurship is open to anyone with an idea, the most successful entrepreneurs are motivated, willing to hustle and willing to take a calculated risk.
“Entrepreneurship is so glamorized right now, but most of the time, it sucks,” he said. “It’s a total labor of love. You hit the highest highs and the lowest lows.
“Entrepreneurship is a mindset you develop,” he continued. “You begin to recognize opportunities to make things better. You have to have the attitude that you can, will and need to do better.”
It’s that do-better attitude that helped Shrake become one of ColoradoBiz‘s Top 50 GenXYZers and Top 25 Most Influential Young Professionals. Hundreds of Colorado’s highest-achieving young professionals are nominated for the prestigious awards each year, and a panel of five judges narrows down the final pool based on professional accomplishments (particularly within the past two years) and community impact—two things Shrake has in spades.
“Scott’s ability to bring people from across campus and around the community together to create impactful ventures is unparalleled,” said College of Business Dean Beth Walker. “By emphasizing the importance of entrepreneurship for all, Scott is creating a unique space at the College of Business where everyone is welcome to share, develop and invest in ideas that will help make the world a better place. We are so proud to have him honored with this award.”
This year’s judges cited Shrake’s high level of educational and professional achievement, as well as the broad impact his work has on helping others “achieve their entrepreneurial dreams,” in their decision to honor Shrake, according to Mike Taylor, editor of ColoradoBiz. Taylor said the judges were also impressed with Shrake’s work in the community, including his leadership in Fort Collins and Denver Startup Weeks and his support in launching the Ventures in Social Entrepreneurship program that pairs students with ventures in Colorado and at the university’s Todos Santos campus in Mexico.
This broad, inclusive approach takes entrepreneurship beyond the walls of the Institute and the College of Business to reach students, staff and faculty across campus, as well as community members from Fort Collins and beyond.
“He dreams big. In an arena known for its silos, Scott has focused on creating an interdisciplinary environment across Colorado that extends the work he does on campus,” Terry said.
The Institute currently works with over 50 individuals and groups per semester; the goal is to increase that number to 3,000 students and community members each year to elevate entrepreneurship’s profile and impact on campus and in the community.
To serve this growing number of aspiring entrepreneurs, Shrake and Institute Assistant Director Rachel Roberts continually develop new programming. They have created specific programs for two of the six business areas the Institute supports and will roll out programming for the other four in 2020. They also regularly work with graduate programs faculty – particularly within the social entrepreneurship track of the new Impact MBA – to add entrepreneurial concepts to their courses.
In addition, Shrake and Roberts are developing programming for the defense industry, restaurant accelerators and design thinking at the K-12 level, which is funded with a generous donation from Otter Products. To support all this new programming, Shrake is hiring three new employees this year.
Shrake is also focusing on working more with the Fort Collins community, developing partnerships with key players in the community to share resources and create good processes for entrepreneurship in Northern Colorado. He believes increasing the presence of entrepreneurship on campus and in the community can combat “brain drain” in the Northern Colorado area.
“New ventures bring people here and keep them here,” he said. “I measure the success of any university by how much it supports the community at large. Education and entrepreneurship are the two best tools for socioeconomic mobility, and I want to drive innovation to push education to where the market is.”
He said being named one of ColoradoBiz‘s Top 50 GenXYZers and a Top 25 Most Influential Young Professional is a wonderful, humbling recognition of the work the Institute is doing.
“It’s great to see people recognizing the work we’re putting in to building a community of entrepreneurship in Colorado,” he said. “I’m lucky to have a boss that helps craft visions and gives us latitude to execute, an amazing team that works incredibly hard, partners like our entrepreneurship faculty and the Nancy Richardson Design Center that are working to build an ecosystem of entrepreneurship, and a wonderfully supportive community that works together to build a culture of entrepreneurship.”