Roots Wins Startup Bootcamp with Prison Literacy Program

Roots, a student startup that wants to teach literacy to inmates by using music, won first place at the fall ENTP 1020 Bootcamp hosted by the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

“Reading is such an important skill to have in the modern world, and more than 60 percent of inmates cannot read above a fourth grade reading level,” said Brendan Cody, a student and founder of Roots. “Roots is trying to change that number and believe that people in incarceration will be less likely to go back with this new skill.”

Fifteen teams and about 80 students competed in the Bootcamp while enrolled in “Entrepreneurship & Science” (ENTP 1020). Teams from Chile and France also competed virtually in the competition, making this the program’s first global competition.

The University of Utah teams spent eight weeks developing an idea, building prototypes, market-testing them, tweaking and pivoting as needed, and then pitching their ideas to investors, mentors and judges from around the community including Salt Lake Acting Company, Church & State incubator, LDD Partners, Brill Securities,, Campus Founders Fund and Key Bank.

“The ENTP 1020 Bootcamp is like no other campus experience I’ve ever seen or had, and this semester was no exception,” said Brenner Adams, an adjunct entrepreneurship instructor who managed the Bootcamp. “For five days straight we researched, revised prototypes, optimized pitch decks and actually pitched to rock stars like angel investors Ron Heffernan and June Chen, Peter Callister at Venture Capital and even the president of KeyBank, Terry Grant. I am always blown away by the progress the teams make in eight short weeks.”


Roots pitches a panel of judges and other Bootcamp participants.

For winning, Roots was admitted into the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute Company Launch program, where they will receive expert advice and peer mentoring. Other prizes for top teams included six months of free coworking space at Church & State, a business incubator located in downtown Salt Lake City.

Roots strives to keep people from going back to prison. They are doing this through education, specifically literacy. The team has been developing a curriculum that uses known tactics infused with music. Music is the way that they attempt to bridge the socioeconomic gap between teachers and students, while leveraging the proven power of rhythm, rhyme and repetition.

“We plan to push our idea forward and help our intended market,” Cody said. “First we are developing our curriculum and going to do some research to make sure it works the way I intend it to. Following that we are going to be looking for volunteers to help turn this dream into a reality.”

The Roots team consists of Brenden Cody (a multi-disciplinary design student), Hakan Ashaboglu (quantitative analysis of markets and organizations), Mauricio Guerrero (commercial community, sports management emphasis), Ryan Belnap (entrepreneurship) and Camile van Ginkel (undecided).

“Making a company is a very challenging thing, there are a lot of moving parts that sometimes don’t want to work together,” Cody said. “One factor that is huge is who stands behind the company. Everyone on my team was personally affected by incarceration, bad circumstances and literacy. That is the only way that we were successful and to others creating a company, find a team that seeks the same end goal that you do.”

Other top teams included Finder and VitaPop, which tied for second, third-place winner Quickbin and fourth-place winner Gelcomb.

Fifteen teams and about 80 students competed in the Bootcamp.

In an effort to continue building the strategic partnership Adams has been focused on for 3 years between the University of Utah and the Université Côte d’Azur, one of the international teams was PocketConfident from Nice. This student lead team is developing a virtual coach powered by artificial intelligence with a target to be a preventive tool, supporting in dividuals going through personal, professional or academic transitions.

“We were very pleased to have the opportunity to represent Université Côte d’Azur at the recent University of Utah’s Startup Bootcamp Pitch Contest,” said Isla Reddin, a student and cofounder of PocketConfident. “It was a great experience to be able to pitch virtually from the South of France into an auditorium of entrepreneurs in Utah.”

Learn more about Entrepreneurship 1020 and other classes and opportunities offered by the Department of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at

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