Innovation, Perseverance, & Success: The Be More Colorful Story

Written by: Brady Drake

Imagine a life with steady-paying jobs, a comfortable house, and a lake place—the epitome of the American dream. Now, envision taking a leap into the unknown, giving up these securities for a vision fueled by innovation and passion. This was the path chosen by Matt and Katie Chaussee, the founders of Be More Colorful. Their journey is a tale of courage, resilience, and unwavering commitment, marked by facing uncertainties, financial struggles, and the need to continually pivot, all while raising two young children.

In this article, we will take a look at their journey, from the beginning to their recent recognition as a semifinalist for the prestigious Yass Prize.

What is the Yass Prize?

The Yass Prize, established in 2021, is a prestigious award that recognizes and rewards innovative and transformative approaches to education that are sustainable, transformational, outstanding, and permissionless. The prize is designed to highlight and honor organizations and individuals who push the boundaries of educational methods and technologies, aiming to create a brighter, more inclusive future for students. The Yass Prize is known for its rigorous selection process, which places applicants on a path to compete for a $1 million award.

Before Be More Colorful

2001 – Meeting

Matt and Katie originally met while attending North Dakota State University as undergraduates. Both were sophomores taking an intro to public speaking course.

“We had both been putting it off because we hated public speaking,” Katie said. “I remember coming into the class and I had to choose my seat. I saw this cute girl sitting by the window and I decided that’s where I wanted to be,” Matt said.

From there, Matt and Katie developed a strong friendship, but despite Matt’s best efforts, a romantic relationship wasn’t in the cards at the time. Or as Matt summarized, “Yeah, I got friend-zoned.”

2008 – Reconnecting

The two went their separate ways before reconnecting on Facebook years later in 2008.

“We picked up right where we left off,” Matt said. “We got along great and had a lot of similar interests. Eventually, things did turn into something more. We had both really matured and it’s probably good that we waited. If she had said yes seven years earlier, who knows if it would have worked out.”

2011 – 2015 The American Dream

Matt and Katie married in 2011 and began building their lives together. Their first child, Evan, was born in 2013 and their second child, Vivian, was born in 2015.

During those years, Matt and Katie both held various professional positions—Matt spent time as a Programmer/Analyst and as a Technical Services Manager for NDSU and Katie worked as a Service Area Assistant for Sanford Health and as a Job Coach at Community Living Services, where she supervised a crew of housekeepers. Together, they did well enough to buy a three-bedroom, two-stall garage home and a lake place. They were essentially living the American dream.

2016 - Katie's Back Injury

“I got home from a job coaching shift at the hotel and remember saying to Matt, ‘My back hurts, I don’t know if I can keep doing this'” Katie said.

Eventually, that back pain became debilitating. Chiropractic appointments didn’t work. Injections didn’t work. Nothing worked. So, Katie had surgery to remove a large portion of a herniated disc that was compressing on her spinal cord, which included a restrictive 6-8 week recovery process. However, in that cloud, Be More Colorful was born.

Be More Colorful Is Born

Spring 2016 – Scrolling on the Couch

As Katie was recovering from surgery, she was faced with the daunting question of what to do next. She didn’t want to go back to the lifting, and stooping, and bending that caused her to have issues in the first place. It also just so happened that the couple was looking for a new home to move into at the time. bus leo.

“I was lying on the couch after my back surgery, scrolling the internet for home listings,” Katie said. “I would look through a ton of photos of a property and still not have a mental picture of its layout and feel. Due to the extensive effort it took to travel, I wanted to rule out the homes I was not interested in seeing in person, which was hard to do with the available information online. I have always wanted my own business. I asked Matt years ago that if I decided to start a business, would he help me run it. He’d agreed. This seemed like a fun and useful technology, and our skill sets complemented each other really well. We had the skills and knowledge t to get started with a virtual tour business.”

“Starting a business was not really even on my radar, but it seemed like a great idea, and I really thought, ‘I’ve got my MBA, how hard could it be?'” Matt said.

2016 – Research

“Katie has a tendency to downplay her role, but she has been really instrumental in all of this,” Matt said. “She researched probably 15 different platforms and camera systems before she presented what she thought the best option was. It was going to cost us $5,000 to get a nice high-end DSLR camera with all of the accessories and to set up the website we needed—we had about $7,000 in savings at that time. I was hesitant at first but she really pushed and convinced me that we could do something with this.”

August 2016 – Failure on Launch

In August 2016, Be More Colorful emerged as a real estate and virtual tour provider for the FM area and surrounding communities.

“We thought it was going to just take off, and it did not,” Katie said. Matt added, “We had a really hard time getting clients. What we were finding was real estate agents were solving the problem of selling homes with open houses and regular listings; there wasn’t a demand. And we were trying to apply a feature set, and a relatively new one at that, to a market that wasn’t asking for it at the time. That was a big problem; we didn’t understand the whole idea of being focused on solving an identified problem first. We were so excited about the technology that we thought it would just sell itself and that didn’t happen.”


Late 2016 – The Pumpkin Patch

Just a few months in, the Chaussees realized they were going to need to offer more than just real estate listings.

“We didn’t know exactly what we were going to do but we realized we had to call somebody and offer to create a tour so we could show our capabilities because we had just been practicing at that point,” Matt said. “It was fall and I thought a pumpkin patch might be a fun thing. So, I called up Mike Halvorson who owns Buffalo River Pumpkin Patch and offered to create a 360-degree photo tour. He gave us a shot.”

That tour, which still lives on the Buffalo River Pumpkin Patch website includes over a dozen scenes from the location that highlights that they do more than just sell pumpkins—this was Halvorson’s biggest challenge in marketing the pumpkin patch.

“We were super excited because they offered us free admission and free pumpkins,” Katie said. “It was the first time anyone really exchanged anything of value for our services. That kind of sealed the deal to move away from the real estate model.”

2017 – Going All In

In March of 2017, Katie spoke at a 1 Million Cups event in Fargo. They invited Halvorson to attend. After she finished speaking, Halvorson stood up and made an unplanned announcement that the Be More Colorful tour had helped them increase their gate admissions by 30% that year.

Armed with validation of their idea, the Chaussees decided to go all in. Matt quit his job. They sold their home, their lake place, one of their cars, and most of their belongings and ended up moving themselves, their two dogs, and their two children into a twobedroom apartment.

“There were a couple of reasons we made that move,” Matt said. “One was for financial reasons. We wanted to make sure we were able to sustain all of this and having a house and a lake place was just too much. The other reason was just bandwidth. We really wanted to make this business work. But if we tried to do everything else, we would need to make some sacrifices and give some things up and we didn’t want to make sacrifices with our family. So, we sacrificed material things.”

“It was fun at the start,” Matt said. “We had a couple of projects coming in and we had the equity from the home and the lake place that we sold that we were able to live off of. We were thinking, ‘This is going to start picking up really quickly.’ And then it didn’t. And then it still didn’t. And then we used up the equity that was in our home and in the lake place. And then we started using credit cards.”

In order to help the slide they were experiencing, Matt and Katie moved into a cheaper apartment and started working parttime jobs—Matt drove Uber and Lyft most weekends and Katie worked at a company that stocked and shipped paracord.

2017 – 2018 Tourism

The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

While working second jobs and trying to make their way, the Chaussees started “throwing everything at the wall.” They tried more tourism-style content, downtown photos, weddings, and printmaking. They even worked on a pretty odd project.

“We got a random email from Shannon Duerr who is the Executive Director of the Cavalier County Job Development Authority,” Matt said. “She said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this really cool old abandoned military base that I’d love to have a virtual tour created for.’ What’s really awesome is she has continued to be one of our biggest supporters.”

It turned out it was for the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safe-Guard Complex, also known as the “Pyramid on the Prairie,” a United States military facility that was briefly operational in 1975 and was built to house and control a network of anti-ballistic missiles designed for Cold War-era missile defense. The complex featured over 100 missile silos for the LIM-49 Spartan and Sprint missiles.

“This thing is massive,” Matt said. “There is like 200,000 sqaure-feet of reinforced underground bunker. It has a field of dozens of missile silos.”

“The whole purpose of us creating the virtual tour was to help alleviate some of the burden of the calls they were getting from people wanting to visit the facility in person,” Matt said. “It actually had the opposite effect and calls spiked to about three times the amount after we posted the tour. It was actually so popular that it slowed down all of the tours we had on our website.”

The Chausses dove head first into tourism work and through 2018, it was their most active area of work.

Did You Know?
Although $6 billion was spent to construct the Stanly R. Mickelson Safeguard Complex, roughly $35.46 billion today, the facility was only operating for six months and was only fully operational for one day before being shut down.

Career Awareness

April 2019 – Workforce Pivot

After the Stanley R. Mickelsen tour, the couple started to have success in the travel and tourism realm. However, another pivot was coming.

The pivot happened when they were at a travel and tourism conference. While at the conference, they ran into Michelle Kommer, who was the Director of the North Dakota Department of Commerce at the time.

“I was nervous because I had never really approached a ‘high-ranking government official’ out of the blue like I did that day,” Matt said. “But I did. I knew as the Commerce Commissioner, Kommer and her team were working on the workforce shortage in North Dakota. So, I approached her and asked her to come take a look at one of the tours we had created. I put the Medora tour we had created onto the VR headset and she was blown away. So, I asked her what she thought about using the technology to create awareness about some of the in-demand jobs in the state. She thought it was a great idea.”

The Chaussees want to make the world and the workforce a better place for their two young children

June 2019 – The Workforce Development Council Meeting

Through Kommer, Be More Colorful was invited to meet with the Workforce Development Council, a council comprised of both private and public sector experts and businesspeople that was established in 2017 to strategically advise on workforce development and coordinate initiatives to align the state’s labor market with its economic needs, under the framework of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

“By that time, we had transitioned from doing 360° photos to doing 360° video,” Matt said. “I brought a headset with me and a few clips we had created for the meeting and the council members were able to give it a try. The response was very positive and both Don Shilling, from General Equipment & Supplies, and Jason Ehlert, from the North Dakota Building Trades Unions approached us and told us that they needed this. They could not bring students on site because of safety restrictions.”

2019 – The Birth of CareerviewXR

After the meeting with the Workforce Development Council, the Chaussees followed up with the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education (NDCTE) and the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI). Both institutions were excited about the concept and asked them to make videos for educational experiences.

“That’s where we really started to develop the concept for CareerViewXR,” Matt said. “But we didn’t really know where to go. So, we applied for the Innovate ND grant program. We were accepted and began the process of creating VR videos to meet students and teachers where they were at.”

As part of the Innovate ND program, the Chaussees had to validate their product with potential users. As part of that process, they met with a number of educators throughout the state and pitched them on their idea that they would provide a classroom with a VR headset containing preloaded videos that educated users on what it was like to work in a trade job for a day. After the classroom was done using the headsets, the school would then ship the headsets to the next school that would use them. After unveiling their plan, the Chaussees got some harsh feedback.

A counselor visited their booth and said, “I would never use those headsets. They would sit in the back of my office collecting dust until I had to mail it on to the next teacher and I’d be frustrated that you made me do that.”

“That hurt,” Matt said. “But it was great feedback. Giving someone false hope just because you want to be nice about their product is not doing them a favor. That was actually one of the most constructive pieces of feedback that we’d received. We realized we needed to meet teachers and students where they were at and that we couldn’t neglect all of the devices that were already there. This was before the pandemic and there were a lot of schools that still had shared devices because all instruction was being done in the classroom. So, we pivoted and started making web based tours that could be used in computer labs.”

What is Careerviewxr?

CareerViewXR is a career exploration platform that uses 360-degree imagery captured in the real world to help students explore different careers through immersive field trips and job shadows. It helps increase student awareness of available careers by bringing the job site into the classroom.

What is the innovate ND Program?

The Innovate ND program is a competitive voucher reimbursement program to help North Dakota entrepreneurs further their business by supporting customer and market research.

February 2020 – The Ball Starts Rolling

In February of 2020, the Chaussees moved their family again into another apartment, but they also started to move the ball forward with CareerViewXR

Matt stands with Jason Ehlert, President of the North Dakota Building Trades Union, on top of the Block 9 tower in downtown Fargo during its construction—definitely a place you don't want to bring students.

April 2020 – The Pandemic

And then the pandemic hit.

“We were really excited because we had these awesome projects with the schools as well as projects with General Equipment & Supplies and the North Dakota Building Trades Union,” Matt said. “And then, we were really scared when COVID hit. We had multiple big projects lined up that were cancelled because nobody was letting anyone in from outside of their organization. Thankfully, the Small Business Development Center was very helpful in providing assistance and resources for us to apply for PPP loans.”

Then, a door opened up.

Campuses across the area were unable to bring potential students in for in-person tours. The Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation wasn’t able to bring in prospective new residents. Employers around the region had to stop doing in-person recruiting events. And Be More Colorful had a solution available that aligned with those needs.

“Because of the pandemic, everyone now understood the value of being able to catch a glimpse of a place before you decide to go there in person,” Katie said. “The clients who came through hiring us for projects, both during and shortly after the pandemic, kept us going through an incredibly scary time.”

Fall 2020 – Grant Approval!

As part of the process Innovate ND process, Be More Colorful worked with both Devils Lake High School and Williston High School, which both submitted and were awarded Perkins V Innovation Grant funding that they used to contract with Be More Colorful to create career exploration videos.

Spring 2021 – First Hires

In the spring of 2021, Be More Colorful hired their first interns. By the end of the year, they had grown to a team of six employees!

Spring – Summer 2021 Filming Begins

Matt, Katie, and their team started busily working to build out their CareerViewXR library and filmed their first 12 experiences during this time.

July 2021 – Home

The Chaussees moved back into a home in July of 2021. “This was a huge win for us,” Matt said. Katie added, “It was awesome to finally accomplish the initial goal I started 5 years earlier of finding a new house. We got a little distracted.”

Fall 2021 – Launching Careerviewxr

Now a nationally competitive product, CareerViewXR was first rolled out in the Fall of 2021.

Fall 2021 – Lift Loan Denial

Matt and Katie first applied for a LIFT Loan for $1.225 million in the Fall of 2021. Their initial application was denied.

About Lift Loans

The Legacy Investment for Technology Loan Fund (LIFT) in North Dakota is an innovative loan fund designed to support technology advancement. It achieves this by providing financing for the commercialization of intellectual property within the state. This fund is particularly geared towards industries involved in advanced computing, data management, and agriculture technology. The loans must be repaid and are not a gift from the state.

About the North Dakota Development Fund

The North Dakota Development Fund (NDDF) offers “flexible gap financing” through loans and equity investments that are not typically available from conventional lenders, aimed at fostering economic development. Established in 1991, the NDDF provides various financial options to support the growth of primary sector businesses in the state. These options include direct loans, participation loans, subordinated debt, and equity investments, with a funding capacity of up to $3 million. Targeted at companies certified as primary sector businesses, the NDDF’s funding can be used for various purposes such as working capital, equipment, or real estate, offering up to $1 million at interest rates lower than the market average. In addition to supporting primary sector businesses, the NDDF also manages the Child Care Loan Program, which was initiated by the North Dakota Legislature in 2009.

March 2022 – Receiving the Lift Loan

“We knew we needed to create a library of content to really get things where we needed to so we applied for a LIFT loan through the Bank of North Dakota,” Matt said. “We initially asked for $1.225 million. That application was denied. We corrected a few areas and resubmitted. We were eventually awarded a $500,000 loan. “

“After our initial denial, we knew we need to pull out all the stops. We wrote a business plan and proposal that read like a Fargo INC! magazine,” Katie said. “It worked!”

October 2022 - Receiving the North Dakota Development Fund Loan

To cover their remaining ask, Matt and Katie applied for a $725,000 loan from the North Dakota Development Fund.

“We were accepted, but they wanted to release the money in stages with stipulations attached for each of the stages,” Matt said. “First, we had to produce 20 new experiences to get the first $300,000. Then, we had to create 20 more experiences to get the next $300,000. Then, we had to integrate with a career information system to get the remaining $125,000.”

“Initially, we were thinking that it’d be really nice to have all of the cash right up front so we could start making all of the hires we needed to,” Matt said. “But, in hindsight, it was really brilliant because it motivated us to get really lean and do as much as we could with the resources that we had. We needed to do a lot of hiring during this time, and the development fund dollars were huge for growing our team.”

January – April 2023 House Bill 1232

This spring, House Bill 1232 was presented to the North Dakota legislature. The purpose of the proposed bill was to provide financial support for the ND Department of Career and Technical Education to purchase virtual reality career exploration software.

“When the bill went to the floor, I had the opportunity, for the first time, to get in front of a legislative body and pitch our concept for workforce development,” Matt said. “I really didn’t know what to expect. But, we were pleasantly surprised when legislators from across the state immediately understood the importance of what we were working to do and the value that it could deliver to schools, employers, industries, and the state. We got a lot of support. The bill ended up passing both chambers.”

“Between the legislators, the private companies, industry partners and groups like the GFMEDC, Job Service ND, and NDCTE, we feel like we have the support of the whole state,” Katie said.

Summer 2023 – Regional and Statewide Impact

The passing of HB 1232 provided NDCTE with funding to implement virtual reality career exploration for schools across the state. The CareerViewXR platform and its growing library of North Dakota VR experiences was selected as the solution to be deployed, and as of this fall, every North Dakota middle school and high school student (approximately 60,000 students) has access to the full content library through the state’s workforce platform. Be More Colorful has worked to rapidly onboard schools through a series of in-person and virtual training events, even hiring a full-time employee to manage the need for schools. “We built this platform from the ground up, working with schools from the start,” Katie said. “The rapid adoption of the platform and the excitement teachers and students share about CareerViewXR shows how important it is to be boots on the ground working with schools to create what is important to them,” Matt said. “And now, other states are starting to take notice as well.”

September – October 2023 The Yass Prize Quarter Finals

Be More Colorful’s CareerViewXR platform received further validation this year when they were selected as 1 of 64 quarterfinalists out of 2,000 applicants for the 2023 Yass Prize, a $1 million prize awarded once per year, given to a company helping
push innovative approaches to education.

As part of their attempt to make it to the semifinals, Be More Colorful was tasked with drumming up as much publicity as possible. The local Fargo community rose to the challenge and Be More Colorful and the CareerViewXR platform advanced to the Yass Prize Semifinals.

October – November 2023 Nationwide Expansion

Earlier this year, Be More Colorful was accepted in the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) emerging partners cohort. Out of the 40 applicants, only 5 were selected. Participants in the cohort are introduced to state technology leaders from around the country, a critical component in CareerViewXR’s expansion. The company is already beginning to mirror the success seen in North Dakota in other states as well. They recently announced that the CareerViewXR platform is part of a statewide workforce initiative in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, where over 5,400 virtual reality headsets are being deployed to help students with work and career readiness. Through their involvement at the SETDA Leadership Summit this year in Washington D.C., Be More Colorful has also started conversations in 10 other states about expanding use of the CareerViewXR content library.

November – December 2023 The Yass Prize Semifinals

As semifinalists, Matt and Katie recently completed a 4-week business accelerator program.

“Thousands of schools and organizations applied and only a handful have the privilege of going through it,” Matt said. “The purpose of the accelerator is to help us build relationships with schools and innovators across the country, ensuring that our products and services are going to have the biggest possible impact for students.” The company will find out at an awards Gala held in New York City on December 13 whether they are either one of eight finalists who will receive $500K or the winner of the $1M Yass Prize.

The Future

“The journey has been so incredible,” Matt said. “We are so excited and honored to be the co-founders of a company that’s able to work with others, make connections, and help solve this big workforce problem. We just see this as providing so much opportunity for so many people, students, and industries. To be bringing this workforce solution, developed here in Fargo, ND, to help students at our local schools, across the state, and throughout the country, is nothing short of remarkable. We are so grateful to have received the support of this community, our schools, state agencies, and employer partners.” Katie added, “Keep a close eye on what we’re up to because the work we’re doing is just getting started.”

The story of a once-upon-a-time “Mom and Pop VR Shop” that has transformed into a nationally recognized EdTech startup is an incredible journey of sacrifice and determination, aided by the strong relationships built with their clients and supporters in Fargo and beyond. And if you are just reading about them for the first time, this is the sort of perseverance and sacrifice it takes to build a seven-year “overnight success.”

Be More Colorful
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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.