Story by Melissa Leavenworth and Jeff Dodge
Chrissy Chard and Kellie Walters, who first met at CSU while earning their graduate degrees in the Department of Health and Exercise Science, won a $5,000 grand prize this week for their nonprofit Smart Fit Girls in the Imagine Colorado Ideas Showcase.
Chard is now a faculty member in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and the Colorado School of Public Health, and Walters is completing her Ph.D. at Clemson University. They faced nine other startup companies in the final round of the Imagine Colorado Ideas Showcase at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on May 17.
After working with adult females to promote goal-setting behavior that encourages a fit lifestyle, Chard and Walters recognized the self-esteem challenges posed by adolescence and began Smart Fit Girls. It is a 10-week after-school program aimed at empowering middle school girls with positive body image, confidence and self-efficacy.
Smart Fit Girls arose from Chard’s and Walters’ health coaching company for adult females called Smart Fit Chicks. They were accepted into the Venture Accelerator Program through CSU’s College of Business in 2012, while Chard was earning her Ph.D. After working with adults, Chard and Walters began to realize that challenges with self-esteem and body image start much younger, and so Smart Fit Girls was born in spring 2014.
The VAP provided them access to mentors and resources to get the two organizations off the ground. Through the VAP and Charge!, the University’s crowdfunding site, Chard and Walters raised enough money to start all four of their Smart Fit Girls locations in Colorado, Wyoming and South Carolina.
After advancing from a field of about 80 submissions in the Colorado Ideas Showcase, Chard and Walters gave their final pitch for the Imagine Colorado competition in front of a panel of local celebrity judges, including Colorado Chief Innovation Officer Erik Mitisek and Colorado Rapids Player Dillon Powers. After the teams presented their pitch videos and participated in a Q&A, a live audience voted to determine who won $25,000 in cash prizes presented by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Chard and Walters won the grand prize among submissions entered by adults; the grand prize in the youth category went to the Jeffco Student Health Advisory Council.
Chard and Walters said they plan to use the money to expand their website to include an online training program for coaches, in hopes of expanding their program around Colorado and beyond. Outside the state, the program has already been offered in South Carolina and Wyoming.
“The more coaches we can train, the more sites can access and offer our program,” Chard said, adding that the competition allowed them to make many valuable connections. “The money is great, but the networking that happened there was incredible for us.”