A student entrepreneur’s journey to professional leadership

Lee Haider’s trajectory from student entrepreneur to a leader at a major corporation showcases the transformative power of the entrepreneurial ecosystem at UCCS.

Haider, who graduated from UCCS in 2020 with a bachelor of innovation degree in marketing, now is a professional at Xero, a multibillion-dollar accounting software company. Haider’s journey highlights not only his success but also the broader impact of a university that empowers its students to excel as entrepreneurs and leaders in their chosen fields.

“People often say you are as good as your environment. I disagree with that,” Haider said. “I believe you are as good as what you do within your environment.”

Haider’s environment at UCCS included the Garage, the university’s vibrant hub for entrepreneurial endeavors. The Garage isn’t just a space, but a dynamic environment where Lee and his peers immersed themselves in the entrepreneurial culture of Colorado Springs.

A student entrepreneur’s journey to professional leadership
Haider and fellow students at the Garage

In the incubator program, UCCS students learn to develop and execute business venture ideas. One of the Garage’s standout features is its weekly pitch sessions, where students present their startup ideas in front of a supportive audience and receive valuable feedback. For Haider, these sessions were instrumental in breaking down the fear of failure and building confidence in articulating innovative ideas.

Through regular pitching and feedback, Haider honed his presentation skills, learned to adapt his ideas based on constructive criticism, and ultimately became a more confident and effective communicator.

The program’s emphasis on practical, hands-on learning fosters a sense of community where students feel empowered to share and refine their ideas, knowing they have the support and guidance needed to turn their visions into reality.

The Garage also provided a rich networking environment, not just among students but also with experienced faculty members who offer real-world insights and mentorship. Interacting with these mentors enriched Haider’s learning experience and expanded his entrepreneurial acumen beyond the classroom.

Describing his mentorship experience, Haider recalls the guidance of professors including Tom Duening, Ph.D., director, Center for Entrepreneurship, and Terrance Boult, Ph.D., El Pomar Endowed Professor of Innovation and Security.

Boult praises Haider for the exceptional adaptability he showed while in the Garage.

“Lee did a great job with the Garage and learned important lessons about meeting with and listening to customers,” Boult said. “I see Lee’s adaptability as a great example of what we hope students to learn in the bachelor of innovation and the Garage.”

Haider calls the Garage cohort “the secret sauce,” underscoring the importance of being surrounded by individuals who are striving for excellence. The collaborative atmosphere fostered within the Garage fueled creativity and problem-solving, propelling Haider and his peers forward in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Haider’s entrepreneurial spirit extended beyond the campus, as he actively participated in startup competitions and statewide Angel investment competitions. These experiences not only provided exposure for his startup, but also served as valuable learning opportunities, refining his business acumen and resilience in the face of challenges.

At the Garage, Haider found a supportive environment where he could experiment, fail and learn quickly, all without the repercussions he might encounter in the outside world — a realization that proved invaluable to him.

Equipped with the mindset and skills nurtured at UCCS, Haider now leads the social media strategy for the entire U.S. market at Xero.

When asked for advice he has for current and future students, Haider emphasized the importance of seizing every opportunity and embracing discomfort as a catalyst for growth, echoing his journey.

“Success favors momentum, and it’s our responsibility to seize it,” Haider said. “Much of my success stems from my alma mater, UCCS, which not only provided me with resources and support, but also fostered a culture of innovation, resilience and collaboration.”