A group of University of St. Thomas students are taking home their piece of almost $60,000 in scholarships awarded Nov. 21 at the sixth annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge at university’s Schulze School of Entrepreneurship.
A record 36 teams competed in the event’s three divisions of semifinals: undergraduate, graduate and social venture (concept that addresses societal needs). The top four teams in each division were awarded St. Thomas scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per team.
Students who participate in the challenge develop and submit a business concept that has the potential to become a viable, high-growth business. Entries are judged on their originality, clear and compelling value proposition, competitive advantage, market opportunity and feasibility.
Jeremy Little, a junior entrepreneurship student, won the undergraduate competition for his concept Unique Pontoons. The concept, which he said carries 27 patent claims, is an expandable pontoon with built-in trailer. After backing the boat into the water, the deck expands to 11 feet wide, the wheels retract up and out of the water and the trailer tongue retracts underneath the deck and out of site, all with the push of a button.
Little receives a $10,000 scholarship, but said the entrepreneur and investor judges he met Friday could benefit his concept greatly in the future.
“The biggest thing to me is the contacts,” said Little. “You can’t put a price on the different types of people you meet that have something to offer to help your business succeed. I got probably close to 20 new contacts from the Fowler that are interested in seeing this idea move forward.”
In the six years of the competition, 804 St. Thomas students have participated and scholarships totaling $288,500 have been awarded. This year’s participants represent 26 St. Thomas academic programs. Winners came from 11 different disciplines:
- Unique Pontoons: Jeremy Little – Entrepreneurship
- Jabb: Alan Silber – Entrepreneurship, Braden Ericson – Computer Science, Ryan Sheehan – Marketing
- Midwest Munchies: William Griffith – Financial Management, Benjamin Sjodin – Financial Management
- Zapp: Clement Foltz – Actuarial Science
Graduate Division (all MBA students)
- Homeowner Tracker: Jacalyn Peterson, Mara Ryan, Amanda Klosner
- The Adjustable Locker Safe: David Turnham
- ACRE: Imagine What You Can Do with an ACRE!: Maria Coulter, Megan Ryan-Kuefler, Joel Gerich, Vijay Pattavhiraman, Kwongman Louie
- Project Yes: Taking the Stress Out of Yes: Ally Freed
Social Venture Division
- NetZero: Food Waste Recovery and Reharvest: Suzanne Marshall – Real Estate
- WindWorks: Vang Xiong – Mechanical Engineering, Tony Kuplic – Mechanical Engineering, Michaela Andrews – Mechanical Engineering
- BrightSide Produce Distribution: Emma Button – Biology & Global Health, Ellie Henkemeyer – Environmental Studies, Louise Messina – Biology
- Grow Green Go: Kendra Smith – Entrepreneurship, Michelle Twite – Entrepreneurship
TECHdotMN spoke with two of the technology concepts, Jabb and Homeowner Tracker. Minnesota Business Magazine covered this year’s event as well.
The Fowler Business Concept Challenge is named for 1966 St. Thomas graduate Ron Fowler, chairman and CEO of Liquid Investments Inc. Gifts to the university from Fowler, Alan and Marcia Bignall, Joseph and Dawn Keller, the William C. Norris Award for Social Entrepreneurship, the Cade Family, Peter Seidler and the Charles Kubly Entrepreneurial Scholarship have made the annual competitions possible.