Fowler Business Concept Challenge Awards Thousands to UST Tech Entrepreneurs

by Brooke Rymer

You don’t have to be born creative to be creative. Creativity is really about being resourceful, and you know what requires a lot of resourcefulness?

Being an entrepreneur!

Because ideas are meant to evolve into living, breathing, things, The University of St. Thomas is less a hub for idea generation and more of a launching pad for new ventures.  The University challenges students to think beyond the confines of the classroom by asking them to apply their passions to the viability required by reality — competition style.

For the second year in a row, the University has enabled students to do this through the Fowler Business Concept Challenge where students compete for tens of thousands in scholarships. It’s made possible by the generosity of Ron Fowler, 1966 UST Alumni and chairman and CEO of Liquid Investments, Inc.

Open to all majors at the Undergraduate and Graduate levels, each division competes for its own $10,000 scholarship prize . The basic requirement for each team that enters The Challenge is to draft a five-page description of the business concept. This year, over 66 concepts were evaluated in all on the following five characteristics: originality, clear and compelling value proposition, competitive advantage, market opportunity, and feasibility.

The winning teams in each division is awarded a $10,000 scholarship, with $5,000 for the runner-up team, $2,500 for the second runner-up team and $1,000 for the fourth runner-up team; an additional $1,000 prize is awarded to the best individual presenter.

Within the graduate division, 2nd place was awarded to Cy Zaeske and Kelsey Nelson for their concept, ‘TripRoamer’, whose mission is “An efficient and affordable one-stop-shop matching travelers to the destinations that best suit their preferences.”

Cy and Kelsey have developed the business concept in full but are still working on completing an initial feasibility study over the next month. “We realize that the costs of assembling the technology and inventory of resorts and hotels will cause significant up-front costs,” they acknowledge. While it is clear that their entire business concept relies on technology, the duo also utilizes technology when it comes to “the methods behind the inventory assemblage and the statistical methods behind the preference based matching.” both of which are quite complex, according to Cy. While most destination searches pull up common locations, TripRoamer will “expand the opportunities for the travelers and create destinations that may be more suitable to their needs.”

Another winner within the graduate division was this year’s fourth place winner, Ryan Edstrom for his concept, ‘InstiPark’. According to Ryan, “InstiPark’s mission is to eliminate the hassles of traditional parking for event-goers and enhance cash flow for parking vendors by providing a parking marketplace that uses technology of today.” Currently, Ryan is finalizing a formal business plan for his graduate course, “Launching New Ventures”. By exploring different mobile application architectures that make sense for the target market, Ryan’s next step is to begin development of v1. “InstiPark will eliminate the headache and time involved in finding parking using mobile means,” he says.

At the undergraduate level, fourth place was awarded to Solome Tibebu for her concept, ‘Tools for Schools’, which provides K-12 schools and student’s online access to tools and information to address the little-talked-about issue of anxiety disorders.

It was in 2006, when after experiencing anxiety issues of her own and not having access to a quick resource, that Solome decided to take matters into her own hands. Solome is currently in the development phase of working on an immediate-relief mental health application for schools and individuals to help them in their time of need, which is  in line with her website’s (Anxiety in Teens)  mission: to serve as a resource for teens who experience anxiety.

“The application not only empowers youth to take their own initiatives to help themselves but will also enable schools to be a catalyst for healthier youth by offering this much-needed application in an online environment, where these anxious youth are spending a third of their day. That’s the key: teens today are not very patient and  they need something that will help them right away, especially when it comes to mental health.” says Solome.

One commonality between these three winning business concepts is the creative application of modern technology to address unmet demand in the market — as they all stem from some thread of frustration with an inadequately addressed issue. The Fowler Business Concept Challenge allowed these tech teams to bring their innovative ideas forth under the microscope, and pushed them one step further into reality.