Two companies with St. Thomas ties – Solupal and BarBud – are division finalists in this year’s MN Cup, the largest statewide start-up competition in the nation.
Solupal is a finalist in the youth division. First-year student and Schulze Innovation Scholar Amy Helgeson is part of a six-person team behind a water-soluble and eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastic bags.
“Being a finalist in the MN Cup is an amazing honor and opportunity,” said Helgeson, an entrepreneurship major. “It’s an incredible feeling to know that our venture is making change in the world and that others see the potential it has to make a positive impact. There were so many amazing entrepreneurs and submissions in the youth division and we feel so proud to be selected as one of the three finalists.
“I am most proud of our ability to discover a major problem in the world and work to find a viable solution that has the power to make a huge impact,” she said. “When we first started this project, none of us knew exactly what we wanted to do or how we wanted to do it. But, we all felt compelled by a cause and I am so proud of our ability to work towards a common goal and to seek change. I am grateful to be part of a group of students that want to make a difference in making our world more environmentally conscious.”
A student at Mounds View High School when she entered the MN Cup, Helgeson’s other company, Skyrocket, made it to the semifinals in this year’s competition as well.
BarBud is a finalist in the student division. Started by Jack Cunningham ‘18, an entrepreneurship major, and Will Adamson ‘18, a marketing major. The two created an app that lets bar patrons place an order from the menu and pay in the app. They then receive a notification on their phone when their order is ready for pickup.
Cunningham and Adamson first met last year at a Startup Weekend Twin Cities event.
“Participants in the event were tasked with bringing an idea from concept to prototype in 54 hours and then pitching it to judges,” Cunningham said. “The idea was dreamt up after struggling to pick a place to grab a drink after the first evening of this event. We knew large crowds and long wait times would be present at all of the bars within walking distance because the rest of the attendees were looking to get drinks as well.
“As an extremely competitive person, I am ecstatic to have made it this far in the competition,” he continued. “Over the past few years, I have enjoyed watching companies cycle through the competition and see the innovation grown right here in our backyard. This year more than 1,600 individuals applied to be in our seat. You can only naturally feel honored and overcome with joy.”
Division winners will be announced Sept. 24. They’ll each receive $30,000 and go onto compete for the $50,000 grand prize on Oct. 8. Last year, MicroOptix – spearheaded by St. Thomas alumnus and adjunct faculty member Roy Martin ’79 and business partner Chris Pulling – took home the grand prize including $80,000 in seed capital.
The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship offers up to 10 four-year, full-tuition Schulze Innovation Scholarships for incoming first-year students. Innovative high school seniors are encouraged to apply before Dec. 1.