Entrepreneurial Ambition: Fowler Business Concept Challenge Returns

The entrepreneurial spirit of St. Thomas was on full display in person at Anderson Student Center Nov. 12, when students competed for $86,000 in scholarships by presenting creative business ideas at the Fowler Business Concept Challenge. Ideas ranged from a program to alleviate hunger in the Twin Cities to a sideline robot referee for soccer.

Students representing 23 majors competed in either the business concept or social venture track. With 66 students submitting 45 business ideas, the top 32 teams competed in the morning semifinals, with the top four teams from each track advancing to the finals in the afternoon.

Sophomore Chloe Ginkel received a $15,000 scholarship for winning the social venture track with UWell, a mental health software app. Ginkel's idea for the app was in honor of a high school classmate who committed suicide.

Chloe Ginkel stands for a photo with President Julie Sullivan, sponsor Jill Putman and Associate Dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Laura Dunham after accepting her $15,000 scholarship during the Fowler Business Concept Challenge on Nov. 12, 2021. (Liam James Doyle/University of St. Thomas)

"I’m talking about a huge social challenge that needs to be addressed – mental health,” Ginkel said. “[The Fowler Business Concept Challenge] put into perspective for me the mission that I’m trying to accomplish – giving a voice to the millions of students who are suffering from mental illness.”

In the business track, juniors Brady Gruenhagen and Cory Kaisersatt took home top honors and a $15,000 scholarship for Print3D Paradise. Their concept involves having unique land and vacation rentals in one package. The land would be located close to national parks; the rental facilities would be 3D-printed.

The two competed in the challenge last year, but with other concepts on different teams in the social venture track. “I have learned how to portray my ideas in an effective way and how to build excitement around an idea,” Gruenhagen said.

Cory Kaisersatt and Brady Gruenhagen stand for a photo with President Julie Sullivan and Associate Dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Laura Dunham after accepting their $15,000 scholarship during the Fowler Business Concept Challenge. (Liam James Doyle/University of St. Thomas)

Entries were judged on a variety of merits including originality, clear and compelling value proposition, competitive advantage, and market opportunity and feasibility. This year’s judges included 47 local entrepreneurs and business leaders, including 28 who are St. Thomas alumni.

“This is such an incredible opportunity for these students to go through a real-world experience of having to create and deliver a presentation, and put together a business plan,” Brinkman said. “The rigor that they have to go through, the bravery to get up there on stage … it’s been an honor to be a part of it.”

Before the winners were announced, President Julie Sullivan spoke at the awards ceremony.

“Every student who competed today, you learned something. I hope that you have elevated your belief in yourself,” Sullivan said. “If there’s one thing you don’t already know in life, you will know it very quickly: You can only do what you believe you can do.”

Since its inception, the Fowler Business Concept Challenge has drawn more than 1,400 students and awarded more than $700,000 in scholarship money. It is named in recognition of Ron Fowler ’66, chairman and CEO of Liquid Investments Inc., whose gift to the university has made this and future competitions possible.

Noting that this was the 13th annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge, Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Associate Dean Laura Dunham reflected on how the competition has changed over the years.

“We have created a series of workshops and mentorships leading up to the Fowler Business Concept Challenge now so students have the opportunity to not only participate in this competition, but also to learn and grow as entrepreneurial thinkers and doers – as businesspeople,” Dunham said. “We added many features and a lot of developmental support [over the years]. It’s become not just a competition, but a premier educational experience for our students.”

High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Day took place concurrently with the competition. More than 100 students and 14 educators from eight Minnesota high schools learned about design thinking and entrepreneurship. They also watched the Fowler presentations, shared their observations and took part in a discussion facilitated by Schulze School of Entrepreneurship faculty.

2021 Fowler Business Concept Challenge winners:

Business Concept Track

  • Winner ($15,000): Print3D Paradise, Brady Gruenhagen (entrepreneurship and real estate studies) and Cory Kaisersatt (entrepreneurship and finance). Concrete 3D-printed vacation rental homes located close to national parks where hospitality options are very limited.
  • Runner-up ($7,500): Robo-Ref, Nathaniel Charles (entrepreneurship). A sideline robot referee for soccer using sensors on a player's jersey and a camera above the pitch to monitor the player's position on the pitch and alert the center human referees about offsides.
  • Second Runner-up ($5,000): HOM Services, Evan Braaten (entrepreneurship). Provides homeowners the necessary resources and structured property management needed in a timely manner, bestowing knowledge, reducing stress and saving the homeowner valuable time.
  • Third Runner-up ($2,500) and Most Effective Presenter ($1,000): NeckCorrector, Henry Glennon (finance) and Maxwell Karas (entrepreneurship). A strip meant to go on a person’s upper back and neck to reverse the effects and prevent text neck.

Social Venture Track

  • Winner ($15,000): UWell, Chloe Ginkel (entrepreneurship). A comprehensive software application adopted by universities aiming to increase mental health awareness. Using complex data analyzation, UWell takes a personal approach to each student, creating a successful mental health hub for any university.
  • Runner-up ($7,500) and Most Effective Presenter ($1,000): Food to People, Chaz Nelson (entrepreneurship) and William Pittner (entrepreneurship). A food waste eliminating system serving underprivileged communities and universities.
  • Second Runner-up ($5,000): Oasis, Delila Gonyea (entrepreneurship) and Xander Smaby (entrepreneurship and finance). Taking desert land in Nevada and turning it into prime ground to produce algal biomass, revitalizing uninhabitable and unusable land by giving it an environmental purpose.
  • Third Runner-up ($2,500): SOFAssistant, Georges Macheta (entrepreneurship and computer science) and Regina Talavera (entrepreneurship). An app that helps students from around the world apply to universities abroad, helping underprivileged students by providing a detailed step-by-step application plan.