The phrase “young entrepreneur” might bring to mind a lemonade stand. Most lemonade stand operators don’t make $20,000 for their business, but the University of Illinois students inventing wearable gesture recognition software and inexpensive mobile advertising projectors did.
Cozad New Venture Competition, a months-long student start up competition hosted by the University of Illinois’s Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) in Champaign, has been inspiring students to stretch their creativity and vigorously exercise their business muscles in a multi-round, highly mentored contest. We were excited to not only co-sponsor the competition that’s now in its 14th year, but we were thrilled to mentor and judge the 120 participants who entered. Lextech CEO Alex Bratton and Recruiting Director Chad Lilly attended along with Tim Kuelhorn, our Research and Development guru.
Kuelhorn was impressed from the very beginning at the elevator pitch segment:
“It was really interesting to see how different teams chose to present themselves in only a minute. Some got right down to business, while others used storytelling or humor to connect with the audience. A few teams focused on the numbers, the number of people whose lives their business could improve or the amount of money spent dealing with the problem they intend to solve.”
Those who made it past the pitch round proceeded to the mentoring round, a mixer type event where participants got face time with sponsors and mentors. It provided a casual atmosphere for the young entrepreneurs to connect with more experienced professionals, talk about their ideas, and get valuable feedback.
The final phase of competition included a public presentation in front of academics, peers, mentors, and many more. The winning teams had a strong focus on technology, creating new solutions, and doing things that had never been done before.
Chosen from among 18 finalists, this year’s Cozad New Ventures Competition winners are:
- First Place | $20,000 prize (University Funded) – Rithmio, gesture recognition software that can be used to track, record, & analyze a variety of activities
- First Place | $20,000 prize (Entrepreneur Funded) – Lumenous, computer vision technology that makes image projection for advertising easier, cheaper, and more powerful.
- Second Place | $10,000 prize (Entrepreneur Funded) – Inscites, a researcher platform that integrates workflows, data, analysis, and collaboration
- Second Place | $10,000 prize (University Funded) – ElectroCyt, a handheld device and software that measures critical elements of whole blood
- Third Place | (Entrepreneur Funded) Hashtagr, a hashtag search engine
- Fourth Place | (Entrepreneur Funded) – AVriculture uses an aerial vehicle for automated crop surveillance and analysis
Other entrepreneurial standouts include:
- Flaming Cactus, a home automation tool that uses Bluetooth to control appliances – we awarded them Lextech Global Services Best Mobile App ($5,000)
- MoboSens, a smartphone mounted sensor that detects nitrates in soil in water – awarded by Monsanto Sustainable Ag ($5,000)
- Food Origins, a cloud-based and GPS enabled system for tracking fresh food production operations – awarded by Cozad Ag ($3,500)
- Babu, – a paper saving B2C receipt exchange space – Best Undergraduate Group prize ($1,000)
When asked what was his favorite part of the whole competition was, Chad Lilly said, “Getting to see the level of excitement of the students, and seeing a fresh perspective on the tech industry.” Although technology is by its nature innovative, Lilly commented that, as in any industry, it’s easy to get tunnel vision or become over focused on one thing at a cost to creative expansion.
Keuhlhorn also found the competition to be an invigorating and remarked, “The competition rewards setting yourself apart and being unique. That’s also the ethos of Cozad New Ventures, which we really support.”
We were very impressed with all of the finalists and winners. Congratulations!
Were you at the competition, or have you have participated in a startup competition? We’d love to hear about your experience.