Open Door Code presenting at e-Fest.
Open Door Code team members present at e-Fest. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Celebrates the Spirit of Innovation

The University of St. Thomas Minneapolis campus was a hub of entrepreneurial action April 18-20. More than 400 students from 78 schools and 29 states competed in the eighth annual e-Fest for $215,000 in cash prizes.

The $50,000 grand prize was awarded to MabLab from Harvard University for its accurate, affordable and easy-to-use 5-in-1 test strips to screen for the five deadliest lacing agents in recreational drugs.

Dick Schulze talking.
Richard M. Schulze speaks at e-Fest 2024. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

More than 150 team submissions were narrowed to the top 25 teams who participated in four competitions over the three-day event. Teams also attended workshops and heard presentations from prominent business leaders, including Best Buy founder and Chairman Emeritus Richard M. Schulze.

“e-Fest is more than just a pitch competition,” Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Associate Dean and Best Buy Chair Danielle Ailts Campeau said. “It’s a weekend celebrating entrepreneurial thinkers, providing innovative students opportunities to network, engage in professional development workshops from start-up experts, and the opportunity to gain media attention in their local communities through a satellite media tour.”

The Schulze School hosts e-Fest in collaboration with, a nonprofit online platform for entrepreneurship education.

Open Door Code

A St. Thomas team formed by three roommates, Maria Johnson ’24, Montserrat Blanco Lopez ’25 and Aleia Wilbur ’24, competed at this year’s e-Fest competition. Motivated by the inequities in learning possibilities for beginners in the coding world, the trio created Open Door Code.

The introductory coding tool empowers young creators by making learning fun, interactive and accessible. Together, they bring the world of coding from the screen to the hands of students. They say that Open Door Code provides a better alternative to traditional beginner coding software.

“Competing in business competitions is such a great extracurricular addition to everything we’re learning in the classroom,” Johnson said in an interview with the Schulze School. “It’s been really awesome to grow as businesswomen together.”

First entering a similar idea in the St. Thomas Business Plan Competition, the trio developed the concept through the Schulze School’s gAlpha accelerator program, run in partnership with gener8tor. The pioneering four-week venture creation program is free for students and helps entrepreneurially minded students and technologists create start-up businesses. The program helped refine the concept into a viable business with greater impact.

“The judges’ feedback was my favorite part,” Wilbur said. “You work with it so closely that you don’t see the areas that need more explaining. Having them ask questions really helps refine the pitch so you can develop a stronger pitch that hits all those unclear points.”

Soul Shoes

There are numerous competitions and opportunities for students to try their hand at entrepreneurship.

Noah McDonald and Natalie Larson.
Noah McDonald (l) and Natalie Larson showcase Soul Shoes at the Fowler Business Concept Challenge in November 2023. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

Little did St. Thomas student Natalie Larson know when she first met fellow student Noah McDonald that he would become her partner in an entrepreneurial adventure. Wanting to challenge themselves, the now sophomores had both entered Freshman Innovation Immersion at St. Thomas.

“I was originally a neuroscience major and had signed up for this workshop because it said I would get a free St. Thomas swag bag!” Larson joked about the coincidence of her attending the event.

Despite an unexpected beginning, the duo actively pursued the St. Thomas Business Plan Competition and the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge. They placed fourth in the undergraduate student track of the St. Thomas Business Plan Competition and third in the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge.

“If there weren’t any more business competitions being put on after Freshman Innovation Immersion, Soul Shoes would have been done right then and there,” Larson said.

Hungry for more entrepreneurial action, the array of opportunities kept the duo evolving their concept.

“Every competition we applied to has brought up its own challenges. While writing up Soul Shoes for the first Fowler, I was learning so much business lingo I had never heard of before, I had a Google tab open at all times,” Larson said.

The experience made the duo best friends, finding community in each other’s drive to evolve. The competitions brought on perspectives the sophomores couldn’t find in the classroom.

Dick Schulze speaks with students at the 2024 e-Fest
Dick Schulze speaks with students at the 2024 e-Fest
Brandon Woller '17 / University of St. Thomas

“While classroom learning provides a theoretical understanding, translating concepts into practical applications is undeniably challenging,” McDonald said. “It’s driven us to explore a field that was previously unfamiliar, prompting us to approach business from a holistic perspective.”

Recognized in the Princeton Review’s annual list of top undergraduate entrepreneurship programs, the Schulze School offers students numerous opportunities to widen their perspective on their own potential.

“Each competition pushes me out of my comfort zone, and I am beyond thankful for it,” Larson, who now is majoring in business, said.

From Freshman Innovation Immersion to e-Fest, students can work on the same concept, developing and evolving it as they learn new skills from each competition.

Danielle Campeau presenting.
Danielle Ailts Campeau speaks at the Fowler Business Concept Challenge in November 2023. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

“The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship is proud to provide varying opportunities that support entrepreneurs and innovators across our campus and beyond,” Campeau said. “Through a combination of curricular and co-curricular offerings, we support students who want to start, launch, and grow their business,” Campeau said.

e-Fest results

Here is the full list of winners from e-Fest 2024 (for more information on each of the Top 25 teams that participated in the finals, visit

$50,000 Grand Champion: MabLab from Harvard University

  • 5-in-1 test strips to detect the five deadliest lacing agents in recreational drugs

$30,000 Runner-up: Nivoso from University of Minnesota

  • Modular commercial robots for clearing snow at zero tolerance facilities like schools and nursing homes every time an inch of snow is detected

$20,000 Third Place: Janey Health from Loyola Marymount University

  • The first ever health supplement specifically designed to help millions of cannabis users protect their hearts

$15,000 Fourth Place: Fetal Therapy Technologies from Johns Hopkins University

  • A novel port system optimized for fetal therapy surgeries to improve the safety of these lifesaving procedures

$10,000 Fifth Place: Glaucova from Florida Atlantic University

  • An ML-driven glaucoma prescreening platform that increases health care accessibility and helps fight preventable blindness