A student presenting at Freshman Innovation Immersion.
Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

St. Thomas Students Embrace Entrepreneurship at Freshman Innovation Immersion

Anderson Student Center was abuzz for one of the first Welcome Days events this academic year as more than 100 incoming students participated in Freshman Innovation Immersion, an annual program organized by the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. Before classes even started, the students had the opportunity to engage in creative thinking, form a venture idea and pitch to an audience.

First-year student Nico Birchler discusses a business concept with her teammates. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

The students, who represented 41 different majors, collaborated in teams to come up with a business concept. Thirty-eight mentors, including 30 alumni and eight current students, coached the teams in a pitch competition for prize money.

First-year student Miriam Urongo, who will be playing on the University of St. Thomas volleyball team, participated in the daylong event as part of her involvement in the GHR Fellows program.

Reflecting on Freshman Innovation Immersion, Urongo said, “I learned that failure is a big part of learning. There will be many times when you’re going to fail, especially when you’re really passionate about something. You shouldn’t be discouraged by failure – you should be interested.”

Urongo was referring to one of the day’s first activities, the “100 Days of Failure” exercise. Led by Jay Ebben, a professor in the Entrepreneurship Department, the activity was designed to show students how terrible business ideas can be flipped to become good ones.

Jules Porter ’18 J.D./MBA volunteered as one of the mentors for Freshman Innovation Immersion. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

Some ideas that students came up with included: a mesh umbrella, water-soluble outdoor paints, a TV remote with no volume button, and a phone booth that redirects calls back to the phone booth.

“Freshman Innovation Immersion is a great day in terms of just the short amount of time that students go from no idea to something that they’re building a pitch and prototype around,” Ebben said. “It’s a fun process.”

This year’s Freshman Innovation Immersion was the first time Megan Effertz ’04 MBC volunteered as one of the mentors; her team took first place for a concept that involved innovating toothpaste.

“It was so fun and energetic to watch the students’ minds connect the dots and understand how you need to have a problem that you’re trying to solve, what the personas are for your business concept and why they matter and why the concept is different than the competition,” Effertz said. “I love entrepreneurship and working with students.”

Incoming first-year students create and give pitches during the annual Freshman Innovation Immersion program in James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall on Aug. 29. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

Entrepreneurship major Bianca Valadao was excited to get a head start on her college career and learn more about entrepreneurship. Her team’s concept was a self-help app for parents and kids with mental and physical issues.

First-year student and exercise science major Wyatt Gavin was a member of Valadao’s group.

“The project helped us to figure out what we’re most passionate about as a group,” Gavin said. “It showed us what we’re good at and what we need to work on through thinking exercises.”

The event was designed for more than entrepreneurship majors, though.

Incoming Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Associate Dean Danielle Campeau. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

Incoming Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Associate Dean Danielle Campeau considered the variety of majors one of the most exciting parts of Freshman Innovation Immersion.

Collaboration was one of the most important aspects for first-year student Douglas Ossanna, who was on a team that developed a portable desk concept.

“The biggest thing I learned today is that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses,” Ossanna said. “I've always been good at talking, but we have some people here who are really good at coming up with creative ideas, really good drawers, really good thinkers. We all have our own strengths. When we come together as a team, I think we can do something great.”

By the end of Freshman Innovation Immersion, St. Thomas students made connections with fellow students as well as industry professionals that could last their college careers – and beyond.