When Erika Gossett enrolled at CU Boulder, she never imagined she’d win funding for a business pitch.
“I thought I was going to come in, get a music degree and leave,” says the senior who—four years later—will graduate next month with a BM in flute performance, as well as a BA in media studies, a minor in business and a Music Entrepreneurship Certificate, exemplifying the College of Music’s universal musician vision.
“CU Boulder has given me a lot of different opportunities and a lot of space to grow as a musician, and as a student and a professional,” she adds.
When the COVID pandemic hit, Gossett took it as an opportunity to expand her horizons—she started exploring other programs offered at CU Boulder and the College of Music. Subsequently, in taking courses for her business minor and pursuing the Music Entrepreneurship Certificate, she brainstormed a new business venture that led to her compete in CU Boulder’s New Venture Challenge (NVC) run out of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, also known as CU Boulder’s entrepreneurial “flight simulator.”
The NVC connects the CU Boulder campus with the Boulder community to develop and fund innovative ideas. Participants attend year-round events, network and collaborate with mentors to refine their ideas and form startup teams to pitch for funding at the NVC Finals.
“My venture is called Piña Designs,” explains Gossett. “We’re trying to make a completely biodegradable and a more sustainable option for hair care accessories.” Specifically, luxury, biodegradable and sustainable hair ties made from pineapple silk and natural rubber designed for the everyday person who wants to make a positive green footprint and a difference in the ongoing fight against climate change.
“I created the idea for the business minor and my team was formed through the business capstone class. We worked on that throughout the semester and then we were like, let’s do the NVC!”
That turned out to be a good call: Gossett and her teammates placed second in the NVC Climate Change Competition. “The NVC is extremely competitive and this is a major victory,” says Jeffrey Nytch, director of the Entrepreneurship Center for Music. “I’ve been coaching the team through each round of the NVC and I’m so proud of them. Just getting to this stage is a huge achievement!”
Having reached the NVC Finals, the Piña Designs team—which also includes Sage Dobby (Neuroscience, Business), Sydney Kobak (Integrated Design Engineering, Business), Kelley Levaggi (Psychology, Business, '22) and Aly Nelson (Political Science, '22)—will compete for the grand prize on April 12 at the Boulder Theater.
That’s when CU Boulder’s top student and faculty startups will pitch their business ideas to a panel of esteemed judges and a live audience.
“It’s been surreal,” says Gossett, whose music and entrepreneurial interests have intersected in many ways, facilitating her success in both areas. “The New Venture Challenge is intense, but being a music student is intense, too. I feel like it prepared me to take on the challenge.
“If I had to narrow it down to one sentence, it would be creative solutions to everyday problems. This is something that I do a lot in the practice room—if I’m not getting something, I’m like, ‘how am I going to help myself get that?’ I feel like that’s also an entrepreneurial mindset.”