The excitement surrounding the kickoff of the School of Business’ 8th annual Innovation Quest (iQ) competition was even bigger than last year, when a record-setting number of students participated.
“The students were very energized, excited and had lots of ideas,” said management professor Jordan McSweeney, who is organizing the early stages of the event. “We had a vast range of ideas. Some were very rough, while other students had already formed companies and were looking for additional mentoring.”
Student ambassador Molly Bugos ’18 has assisted with the competition for two years and said the enthusiasm this year was appreciable.
“Many students came in with exciting, robust ideas that they’d been working on for a while,” Bugos said. “The excitement was bigger than last year, when we had a record-breaking 89 applications. Our goal this year is to surpass that in March, when the formal applications are due. With the enthusiasm we saw, I feel confident we will.”
“We know a lot of faces and names of students who have been interested in entrepreneurship, and it was great to see new faces, too,” said Bugos, a graduate student. “We had students from freshmen to MBA candidates. We are starting to build a community of entrepreneurs at UConn.”
iQ Culminates in Cash Prizes, Mentoring
The iQ program at UConn was established by entrepreneur and alumnus Keith Fox ’80, who had learned about a similar program at CalPoly and thought it would benefit UConn students. He remains a dedicated mentor and provides on-going financial support for the program. IQ welcomes students from any school, college, or major on campus.
Students compete for $30,000 in monetary prizes and an invitation to the esteemed “inQbator,” a summer bootcamp for entrepreneurs. During their final meeting, teams present their business plans to an audience of angel investors and venture capitalists.
The competition kicked off in Storrs Feb. 13 and in Stamford six days later.
“Stamford represents a major growth area for entrepreneurship at UConn,” said management professor David Noble, the director of the university’s Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. “IQ has led the way with over 30 Stamford students participating the kickoff and hosting an investor presentation day.”
Fueling the Fire
McSweeney said this year ideas ranged from engineering- and high-tech based to arts and digital media.
He said the popularity of iQ reflects the entrepreneurial enthusiasm among young adults, as well as UConn’s commitment to fostering innovation.
“This generation does want to be entrepreneurial and having the flexibility to be their own boss is imprinted on them. But at the same time, this university is committed to entrepreneurship,” he said. “When we get mentors of such enormous stature sharing their knowledge, it is priceless. It fuels the fire. And the fact that students come back year after year shows the entrepreneurial spirit at UConn.”
McSweeney said iQ, the Werth Institute, the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Fox, and the faculty at the university all share the credit for the movement. “We’ve build a great entrepreneurial ecosystem here,” he said. “It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur at UConn.”
Previous winners attended the Storrs presentation and students were inspired to see the success of people who had once occupied their seats, Bugos said. Among them were alumni Mark Smith, owner of Macroscopic Solutions, a high-performance imaging system; Andrew Ginsberg, creator of a new video-streaming company called Loki, and Daniel Yasoshima, last year’s winner who co-founded YouCOMM, a sophisticated nurse-call app for patients.
Now that the kickoffs have occurred, it’s time to start the hard work of turning an idea into a company, McSweeney said.
“The next few workshops will provide basic business information that entrepreneurs will need to build the foundation for their discussions with mentors,” McSweeney said. In early April, judges will begin narrowing down the field of candidates who will continue in the competition.