Savannah Hufendick

Fowler Business Concept Challenge Wants Your Ideas

All it takes is one idea. That’s the spirit behind the Fowler Business Concept Challenge. Open to all St. Thomas students regardless of their major, the Fowler is a chance to unleash your inner problem-solver and win your share of more than $40,000 in scholarships.

“It’s a fantastic developmental opportunity,” said Laura Dunham, PhD, associate dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. “Students learn a lot about themselves and their creative problem-solving capabilities. Entrepreneurial skills are very important in the marketplace and more and more employers are looking for them.”

Students can compete in two tracks – business concept or social venture. You don’t need a full business plan to enter, but you will need to provide a description of your idea.

“This is what we call an entry-level business plan completion,” Dunham said. “You don’t have to have a complete business plan with lots of complicated financial projections. You do have to have an idea. You have to understand a problem and who experiences it. You have to come up with what you think is a viable solution and be able to communicate that in a compelling way to your audience.”

A Fowler S’mores and More Information kickoff event happens at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, outside the Anderson Student Center on John P. Monahan Plaza. Dunham said there’s plenty of support between now and the Oct. 22 deadline for submissions.

“We have one-on-one mentoring and we have workshops scheduled,” she said. “Your idea can be very rough and rudimentary and we can help you work through the process of fleshing it out, polishing your submission and later your presentation.”

Kundan Nepal, chair of electrical and computer engineering in the School of Engineering, encourages his students to participate in the Fowler. He said his students work on many challenging technical problems throughout their time at St. Thomas, however are sometimes reluctant to test their ideas outside the technical sphere of engineering. The Fowler gives them a chance to explore new territory.

“When my students are dreaming up ideas, I want them to focus beyond just what they want to build or solve,” Nepal said. “I want them to think about how their ideas solve a need; about leveraging their technical know-how to generate concepts that actually create value. After all, when they graduate and work at a company, that is what they are going to be doing – finding needs in the marketplace and coming up with product/service solutions to those needs. The Fowler Business Concept Challenge has helped me make the case to my students about value creation and provided an easy framework to dip their toes into the entrepreneurial water. Plus, the potential of a scholarship is always good motivation.”

You can see businesses started by past winners – including Protégé Biomedical – here.

Submissions for the Fowler are due by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 22. Semifinalists will be announced on Monday, Oct. 29. On Friday, Nov. 16, semifinalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of local entrepreneurs and businesspeople. Winners will be awarded their share of more than $40,000 in scholarships.

The Fowler Business Concept Challenge 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.

Schedule of Deadlines and Events for the 2018 Fowler Business Concept Challenge

S’mores and More Information event

  • 4-6:30 p.m. on Sept. 18, John P. Monahan Plaza outside of Anderson Student Center

Submission Workshops – Drop-in working sessions with guidance provided by entrepreneurship faculty. All workshops will be held in the create [space], Anderson Student Center (ASC115), unless otherwise noted.

  • 4-5 p.m. on Sept. 24 (Social)
  • 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m. on Sept. 26 (Business)
  • 5:15-6:45 p.m. on Oct. 2 (Business)
  • 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m. on Oct. 4 (Social)
  • 4:30-6 p.m. on Oct. 4 (Graduate students; held at Schulze Hall 444, Minneapolis campus)

1:1 Help Sessions

  • 1:1 help sessions are 20-minute meetings per individual or team with entrepreneurship faculty. Register for your 1:1 appointment here.

Submission Deadline
11:59 p.m. on October 22

Semifinalists announced
5 p.m. on October 29

Semifinalist presentations/judging
8 a.m.-noon on Nov. 16

Final judging and announcement of winners
1-5 p.m. on Nov. 16