The third annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge was held Oct. 21 on the Minneapolis campus with teams representing undergraduate and graduate divisions from across the University of St. Thomas. More than 85 business concepts were represented in teams composed of one to three people, with four teams in each graduate and undergraduate division taking home scholarships ranging from $10,000 per team to $1,000 per team.
Focused on energizing the entrepreneurial spirit of UST students across campuses and colleges, the Fowler Business Concept Challenge gives students the opportunity to develop a business concept that has the potential to become a viable, high-growth business. This opportunity is especially motivational for those wary of starting a new business during the rough economic climate.
The teams that submit the winning business concept in each of two divisions (undergraduate and graduate) receive University of St. Thomas scholarships. Winning business concepts from the first two years of competition have evolved into real companies: Hyier, 5th Corner Media, Protégé Biomedical, and Student Frenzy.
Concepts were judged on their originality, clear and compelling value proposition, competitive advantage, market opportunity and feasibility by a panel of judges drawn from the business community and St. Thomas faculty. The judges included Alan Bignall, president and CEO of ReconRobotics Inc.; Ben Anderson, founder and CEO of Cinemotion; Chris Heim, CEO of Amcom Software; Susan Johnson, founder and CEO of Magellan Medical Technology; and other leading entrepreneurs.
The competition is named in recognition of Ron Fowler ’66, chairman and CEO of Liquid Investments Inc., whose generous gift to the university has made this and future competitions possible. Fowler was ill and unable to attend this year’s competition.
The Fowler Business Concept Challenge was open to all UST students registered for the fall 2011 semester, including undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.
This year’s winners:
- Nick Wagner, John Beitelspacher and Jesse Sumstad – first place, Graduate Division ($10,000 scholarship) for their concept, the Variable-Camber Wheelchair
- Solome Tibebu – first place, Undergraduate Division ($10,000 scholarship) for her concept, Cognific
- Matt Behrns and Zach Crnecki – second place, Graduate Division ($5,000 scholarship each) for their concept, Head Injury and Trauma Monitoring System
- Timothy Frost – second place, Undergraduate Division ($5,000 scholarship) for his concept, TrueGreen Fuels
- Dan Poplau, Ryan Myklebust and Monty Komanur – third place, Graduate Division ($2,500 scholarship) for their concept, Ticketswap.com
- Kamal Mohamed – third place, Undergraduate Division ($2,500 scholarship) for his concept, Midwest Tomato Fest
- Carl Hensley – fourth place, Graduate Division ($1,000 scholarship) for his concept, Easy Knee Stair Stretcher
- BreAnna Fisher and Andrew Broderson – fourth place, Undergraduate Division ($1,000 scholarship) for their concept, DearYou
Also winning $1,000 scholarships each were Hensley for best presenter in the Graduate Division and Mohamed for best presenter in the Undergraduate Division.
The Minnesota Angels Network made a surprise appearance and presented $1,000 scholarships to all finalist teams to move forward into the MNAN program.
“We review anywhere from 10 to 20 business plans per month,” said Todd Leonard, executive director of the Minnesota Angels Network, “and we’ve looked at 100 business plans since we’ve started our program. We constantly are looking at plans and entrepreneurs, and [these UST student business plans] are every bit as much on par with what we see, and I want to applaud all of you.”