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100-Hour Challenge Brings Campus Together in Spirit of Entrepreneurship

by Devin Lowe Friday, December 12, 2014

In a dimmed room in Sellery Hall, home of the Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community (ERLC), students rifle through piles of throwaway objects stacked on tables, looking for something to inspire an innovative product entry for the 100-Hour Challenge. The competition challenges UW-Madison students to create a valuable, innovative or socially beneficial business idea in less than 100 hours.

“Students here are looking for an opportunity to express their creativity, to build something,” says Sari Judge, housing program coordinator for ERLC. “They really see inspiration in the objects. Some of the students sit down right away and start working.”

More than 40 teams entered the competition, which is open to students across all age groups, majors, and UW campuses, but only 17 completed the objective: create a usable product and upload a video of the finished work for a chance to win a cash prize. Wisconsin School of Business BBA students get something more out of the challenge–credit toward The Compass Program™ requirement.

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Founded in 2007, the 100-Hour Challenge was originally funded by a grant from the Kaufman Foundation, part of a larger gift to help UW-Madison create an entrepreneurial ecosystem on campus. Although the grant expired in 2011, the ERLC has continued to host the event, which provides students with a unique applied learning opportunity.

“The Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community has a variety of students residing there who are interested in majors ranging from engineering and education to political science and business,” says John Surdyk, director of Initiative for Studies in Transformational Entrepreneurship (INSITE). “With leadership from the Wisconsin School of Business faculty and the support of our dean, we have been able to provide an environment that provides in-class instruction as well as applied learning opportunities like the 100-Hour Challenge to students across the university.”

Students began work November 13 and had the opportunity to construct their products at Sector67 and Garage Physics, collaborative work and manufacturing spaces in Madison. Completed video pitches for the products were due November 17. Three groups of judges evaluated student submissions in three categories: potential revenue value, creativity, and social value. 

“If you look at what the students are doing in the videos, occasionally they will confess to failures along the way,” Surdyk says. “Students will develop or pursue an idea, stumble, and then think of ways to work around those obstacles. That kind of perseverance is really important if you want to be successful as an entrepreneur. It’s helpful to be creative, but it’s important to be persistent, and this competition brings those skills forward.”

View the winning videos and products on the ERLC website.