Twenty-five undergraduate student teams from universities across the United States have been selected to participate in “e-Fest,” a competition that will award more than $200,000 in grants and scholarships for the best undergraduate business ideas.
e-Fest will be held April 6-8 at the Schulze School in Minneapolis.
Two teams from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) were chosen from a pool of more than 160 teams from 81 schools. To qualify, teams submitted seven-minute videos and slides describing their business ideas.
Abigail Merrill, who is still a senior at Oshkosh West High School, is earning six credits at UW Oshkosh this semester. Her presentation will unveil an app she began developing in 2016. Designed to help citizens navigate the political arena, the app In Our Hands, allows users to set up customized alerts or apply filters to drafted legislation. The end goal is to help citizens become better informed and more active in the legislative process.
“I am excited to be going to e-Fest, it will allow me to gain further support for the development of this app. I want to help citizens share their voice about the proposed changes or policies. After all, it is in our hands to hold our government accountable,” Merrill said.
Originally from Oak Creek, Dylan Parks ’17, and Brad Ploch ’17, came to UW Oshkosh with the intent of studying business. Parks majored in finance and Ploch majored in management with an emphasis in entrepreneurship and small business. While at UWO, they participated in the CEI accelerator program, which connects students interested in entrepreneurship to the resources (mentorship, consulting and capital) they need to pursue their business ideas.
“Our education at UW Oshkosh gave us the technical skills (financial forecasting, marketing, etc.) and, more importantly, the ability to find solutions to challenges that allow us to stand out from the competition,” Ploch said.
Upright Kids is their latest business venture that would provide affordable stand-up desks for elementary age kids. Research shows standing instead of sitting for prolonged periods of time can alleviate health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles. Although the concept of a standing desk isn’t new, Parks and Ploch set out to create an affordable solution for elementary schools. Upright Kids might be a way that schools or parents could purchase a solution that would allow kids to move more and sit less.
“Going to e-Fest is an unbelievable opportunity for us to not only spread awareness about the issue and our mission but also for a chance to really make a huge leap forward in terms of capital and potential mentors and partners,” Parks said.
Both UWO teams also will have the opportunity to participate in the Innovation Challenge. Judges will shuffle participants into new teams and present them a challenge. The students must devise a business-based solution with a compelling value proposition and present by the end of the evening. The top three winning teams will be awarded scholarships.
Saturday the teams will pitch in groups of five, with the winners of each round advancing until the competition has been narrowed to the top five. The top three winners will walk away with monetary prices with additional grants going to their universities to support entrepreneurship education.
“Having not one but two teams heading to the e-Fest competition is an amazing achievement. UW Oshkosh is the only university (other than the host school) to have more than one team at this event, and most universities didn’t have any teams make the cut. This accomplishment exemplifies the power of our program and the tenacity of our student entrepreneurs,” said Jordan Rhodes ’12 and MBA ’16, Alta Resources CEI director.