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University of Wisconsin-Madison Student Entrepreneurs Compete for Startup Capital

by Rob Kelly Friday, May 8, 2015

The east atrium of Grainger Hall buzzed with excitement as teams of student entrepreneurs from across the University of Wisconsin-Madison vied for more than $50,000 in prizes at the 18th annual G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition hosted by the Wisconsin School of Business.

 Wisconsin School of Business, UW–Madison, G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition

Participants in the 2015 G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition display their entries.

The competition included 43 teams comprised of students from more than 50 majors across the university. The teams submitted business plans in varying stages of development for a variety of ventures, everything from gourmet donut holes to off-the-grid solar power for Sub-Saharan Africa, from an textbook exchange website to a drone air quality monitoring system, and from portable recording studios to an industrial-scale mill that provides food-grade cricket meal to food producers.

“We broke every record for student involvement in terms of the number of participants and the number of teams,” says John Surdyk, director of the Initiative for Studies in Transformational Entrepreneurship (INSITE). “More striking, though, was the intellectual diversity. We had freshmen pursuing electrical engineering degrees pitch new video game studios alongside a Ph.D. student from music developing next-generation arts venues.”

Management and human resources and accounting major Noe Vital Jr. (BBA ’15) entered the idea for Honestly, a video-based product review service, which he executed with the help of a computer programmer and finance major Steven Han (BBA ’15). Vital’s team worked closely with Surdyk; Michael Williams, faculty associate in management and human resources; and Phil Greenwood, management and human resources senior lecturer.

“I came to all three of them before I made the decision to do this. They gave me real advice,” Vital says. “They’ve been with me every step of the way and gave me anything I needed, from nondisclosure agreements to [information on] how to give value to your company.”

John Seaton, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, presented VitaCycle, a modular method to produce and transport micro-greens that received honorable mention in the competition. His experiences in the Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp (WEB) and the Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship (WAVE) class “showed me how to create products, target customers, and build a financial model.”

 Wisconsin School of Business UW–Madison G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition

Cheng Liu, an engineering physics major at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, uses a laptop to set up the drone flight simulator for his teammate Eva Wang (MAcc ’15) during the G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition.

“There’s so much diversity,” says Aaron Redlich (BBA ’14) of Tixora, an online service that helps travelers plan intercity bus trips and winner of the entire competition. “Being able to reach out and find all the talent necessary to make this happen on one campus is fantastic. We were able to put so many different minds together to construct our product.”

Engineering physics graduate student Hanwen Chen drew on the resources of the School to get his drone-based air-quality monitor off the ground. Chen, who didn’t know many business people, approached Eva Wan (MAcc ’15) and found other partners through an online system that matches students across disciplines.

The collaboration was “beyond my imagination,” Chen says.

The competition isn’t just about winning prizes, Surdyk says. “This competition provides a rare chance for students from across the campus to develop their entrepreneurial savvy, sophistication, and confidence in a safe environment. The competition is designed to accelerate students' learning but also to equip them with a professional network and insights that will help them continue to build these companies. We know 12 teams have already had sales, hired employees or incorporated, and we know many more will do so in the coming months!”

For a complete list of winners see the G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition website.

See the recent coverage of the G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Wisconsin State Journal.