Challenge Yourself . . .

I could tell by the environment in Schulze Hall that morning that stress levels were running high, adrenaline was kicking in and the need for constant coffee after a night being “too excited to sleep” was characteristic of most student presenters.

We were in the heat of the 3rd Annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge, which took place on Oct. 21. I have been in these students' shoes twice before, and  “Challenge” is indeed the proper name for this event because it is so much more than a contest or competition. This is a full-blown, high-stakes business pitch that encourages students to act on their ideas and to develop an attractive business proposal that they confidently pitch to investors.

This was my first year not competing in the Fowler Business Concept Challenge, and it was fun to sit on the sidelines and watch students vie for a position in the winner’s circle. I was blown away by the students and their presentations. Many of these business concepts were born out of the desire to solve problems near and dear to their hearts and, in return, to make the world a better place. The two concepts and teams that really stood out to me in this regard were senior Solome Tibebu for her concept Cognific, and sophomore Jane Chevonac and senior Ann Motl for their concept, Pooshkins.

These fearless females are all part of traditionally male-dominated fields - Solome and Jane are entrepreneurship majors and Ann is finishing a degree in mechanical engineering while applying to law school.

Solome’s concept, Cognific, is a software application that connects psychotherapists and patients. Cognific offers mental health homework in a computer gaming format for patients, while providing an analytics platform for their therapists. Founding a non-profit called Anxiety in Teens when she was 16 and serving as executive director for five years now, Solome (below right with Dr. David Deeds and Dr. Christopher Puto of the Opus College of Business) has first-hand experience and has spotted numerous gaps in mental health treatment. She’s ready to take cognitive behavioral therapy to the next level and revolutionize mental health treatment in 2012!Solome

Solome took fourth place at the Fowler Business Concept Challenge in 2010, and after spending a year refining her concept and learning how to code her own software, she finished first in the undergraduate division this year. Seeing this concept develop and mature over the past few years has been truly fantastic.  If Cognific was a child, I would be its proud aunt – that lady who pops up a handful of times each year and greets Cognific by gushing, “Oh my! Look at how much you’ve grown up, I barely even recognize you!”

Seeing Solome’s practically flawless final presentation this year – the outpouring of her experiences and the solutions she has developed to solve glaring problems in mental health treatment – was truly remarkable.

I also had the pleasure of being introduced to an entirely new concept and two fantastic ladies – Motl, the only female engineering student to enter, and Chovanec. Pooshkins is a fun product that kids attach to their backpacks so they have tissues and hand sanitizer at all times, learning healthy habits and independence.

Jane came up with the idea a year ago, but it wasn’t until the Fowler Business Concept Challenge that she dug into the details. Jane was connected with Ann through the engineering department (she took a Toy Design class last January Term) and brought the concept to life through CAD (Computer Aided Design). After feedback and encouragement from students, professors and judges at the Fowler, Jane wants to trademark Pooshkins and secure a provisional patent in order to bring this product to market!Pooshkins

At the end of the Pooshkins presentation, their final slide read: “The Entrepreneur + The Engineer = The Dream Team.” I have to agree 100 percent. After last year’s Fowler Business Concept Challenge, the judges commented on how extremely impressed they were with the concepts, but what could really take these concepts to the next level was cross-campus collaboration. Jane and Ann (above) are a prime example of partnering on a project to create a new product that requires both engineering and entrepreneurial skills.

If the UST tagline is, “Challenge Yourself. Change our World,” I think I’ve found some UST students that are well on their way to doing just that!