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UW Entrepreneurial Competitions Foster Student Innovation and Support Area Startups

by John Surdyk Thursday, July 11, 2019



Contributing to UW-Madison’s legacy of innovation, students this past spring developed and de-risked their original ideas for new products and services in a variety of contests held on campus. Altogether, they vied for more than $60,000 in cash prizes as they pitched ventures as diverse as ceramic ocarinas, bicycle charging units that power mobile devices with riders’ motion, AI-assisted travel apps, and online multimedia literary magazines that celebrate storytelling by women of color.

Competitions hosted this spring include:

More than 100 students drawn from areas as diverse as undeclared freshmen in the Start Up entrepreneurial residence hall to doctoral students in Art History competed this spring.

Within the Wisconsin School of Business, the Weinert Center, the Bolz Center, and the Initiative for Studies in Transformational Entrepreneurship (INSITE) help to strengthen the campus competitions that celebrate creativity and entrepreneurial action by:

  • raising awareness of the competitions among students through targeted marketing
  • hosting campus-wide events like Partner Up! to help students form teams
  • mentoring participants as they develop business models and address strategic questions
  • helping to connect local entrepreneurial leaders to contest organizers so they might build robust judging panels with seasoned and savvy business and artistic professionals ready to challenge students’ assumptions and support their professional growth.

Among the students competing this year, Jack Pawlik, a BBA graduate in Real Estate who recently won the Alan C. Filley award, took the $15,000 grand prize in the Transcend Competition with Drip, a white-label coffee shop loyalty app. WAVE class alumni also placed well in the Transcend Competition taking second place ($10,000) with All Brick Medical, a company designing an ergonomic syringe.

While competitions are powerful venues for helping students develop their skills and build confidence, they are also powerful platforms for student to make meaningful connections with area professionals and business leaders. Among dozens of judges evaluating students’ pitches and presentations this year were: Max Fergus, founder of LUM; Sumit Rana, Senior Vice President of R&D at Epic; Lorrie Heinemann, President & CEO of Madison Development Corporation; and Jenni Le, Director of Gener8tor’s gBeta Madison accelerator program.

A new competition cycle will begin in the fall with the launch of the 100 Hour Challenge hosted by the StartUp residential learning community in Sellery Hall and recruitment of social entrepreneurs for the next Clinton Global Initiative–University challenge.