business concept competition

Fowler Business Concept Challenge Sparks Innovative Ideas

Last Friday at Anderson Student Center’s James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall, nearly $60,000 in scholarships was awarded to an innovative group of students taking part in the Fowler Business Concept Challenge.

Marking its 10th anniversary, the business concept competition drew students from 27 academic programs, who competed in one of two tracks – business concept and social venture. With 84 students submitting 64 business ideas, the top 16 teams were invited to the morning semifinals with the top teams from each track advancing to the finals in the afternoon.

With a focus on igniting the entrepreneurial spirit of St. Thomas students, the Fowler Business Concept Challenge gives students from across campuses and colleges a chance to develop a concept with the potential to become a viable, high-growth business. Entries were judged on a variety of merits including originality, clear and compelling value proposition, competitive advantage and market opportunity and feasibility.

“When we started the Fowler 10 years ago, we had no idea it would become as big as it is now,” said Laura Dunham, associate dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. “It has become a centerpiece of our efforts to spread the message that entrepreneurship doesn’t just belong in the business school, it doesn’t just belong to the entrepreneurship major. The world is full of entrepreneurial opportunities and challenges and needs entrepreneurship thinkers. The Fowler is the vehicle that gives people an opportunity to try to tackle a problem they think is important. To do some research and to bring some fresh perspective to it. To try and create some new solutions.”

Over the past decade, 1,000 students have been involved in the Fowler and more than $500,000 in scholarship money has been awarded.

This year's Fowler Business Concept Challenge winners include:

Business Concept Track

  • Winner ($15,000): FLOdapt, Charles Capron (Electrical Engineering)
  • Runner-up ($7,500): Service Engine, Jason Campana (Executive MBA)
  • Second Runner-up ($5,000): Klip-N-Sip, Jackson Buelow (Entrepreneurship) and Jacob Mischke (Entrepreneurship)
  • Third Runner-up ($2,500): Cities of Sound, David Zimmermann (Entrepreneurship)
  • Best Presenter ($1,000): Service Engine, Jason Campana

FLOdapt is a novel oxygen delivery system that uses an integrated pulse oximeter to directly measure patient oxygen saturation, and an electronically controlled regulator to adjust oxygen flow accordingly. FLOdapt allows physicians to quickly and effortlessly target specific oxygen saturation levels, reducing guesswork and increasing the efficiency and safety of oxygen delivery.

Electrical engineering major Charles Capron was inspired to create FLOdapt after a conversation with his wife who is a neonatal nurse at the Mayo Clinic.

“We started talking about things that would make her life better,” Capron said. “One of the things we identified was constantly monitoring the oxygen saturation level in premature infants, which takes up a significant amount of time. We started looking at the closed loop systems that are currently available to do this. Yes, there are some, but we found there are other markets that use oxygen as well. There are – at least that I’m aware of – no closed-loop systems that deliver oxygen in the in-home oxygen market.”

Capron said the Fowler experience was an interesting one. Not used to considering the business side of product development, Capron said doing marketing research was eye opening.

“When you’re actually up there and have a good idea of what your product is – what it does and what it does better than the competition – it’s an interesting experience because you’re the person who knows the most about it in the room and you’re able to present that effectively and efficiently,” he said.

Social Venture Track

  • Winner ($15,000): AddictionU, Jay Louricas (Entrepreneurship) and Eric Martin (Entrepreneurship and Real Estate)
  • Runner-up ($7,500): Conservation Crate, Lindsay Bayerkohler (Environmental Science and Biology) and Cora Heinzen (Political Science)
  • Second Runner-up ($5,000): Solacqua, Marisa Smedsrud (Environmental Science), Christina Ippoliti (Entrepreneurship) and Joshua Faffler (Entrepreneurship)
  • Best Presenter ($1,000): AddictionU, Jay Louricas and Eric Martin

Through an online storytelling and education platform and classroom speaking engagements, AddictionU seeks to serve and support children who are impacted by substance abuse of a family member.

Co-founder Jay Louricas emphasized addiction is personal and the statistics don’t tell the whole story.

“AddictionU is founded on the fact that Eric and I both have immediate family members who suffer from addiction and we watched how it shaped our lives,” Louricas said. “There were a lot of battles – especially in my case – throughout the process. It got to the point where I was sitting in a high school class learning the drug and alcohol unit and hearing the numbers and stats. I was thinking –  from the point of view of someone who had seen this – you’re missing the point.”

“We wanted to tell stories and put together a team of EMTs, recovering addicts, family members of addicts … we can really bring that perspective and make it personal,” Louricas continued. “We are AddictionU, this is our story, let’s hear your story and let’s do something.”

Co-founder Eric Martin said it was great to hear the feedback from Fowler judges.

“What was really nice to hear was validation of this concept, to hear business professionals say you’re onto something – not only is it going to touch the hearts of students and educators, but it also is going to be a sustainable business model,” Martin said.

Impressive entries

Dunham said there was a lot of great talent on display at this year’s Fowler and she’s proud to have the entrepreneurial community come and serve as judges so they can witness that talent first hand.

“This day is one of the highlights of the school year at St. Thomas because of the amount of energy, passion, creative thinking and entrepreneurship – it’s amazing,” Dunham said. “Students are tackling big problems. They’re bringing some fresh thinking to these problems.”

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. This year’s scholarships were also made possible by gifts from Fowler, the Cade family, EY and the Seidler family.

Coinciding with the Fowler was High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Day. Nearly 100 students and 24 educators from 19 high schools across the Twin Cities learned about design thinking and entrepreneurship. They also had the opportunity to watch the Fowler presentations, share their observations and take part in a discussion facilitated by Schulze School of Entrepreneurship faculty.