UMN Mobile App Challenge is back

UMN Mobile App ChallengeIf the true purpose of college is preparing young minds for the professional world, then the University of Minnesota’s Mobile App Challenge would seem to be very much in line with that directive.

Mobile devices are quickly growing toward a ubiquitous state and those who can successfully develop useful software are gaining an edge in the technical job market. This competition – entering its second year after Monday night’s kickoff event on the U of M campus – puts teams of contestants through the entire process, from conjuring a conceptual idea to pitching for buy-in to actually building their app over the course of two semesters.

“It’s sort of a mini-entrepreneur experience,” says Farhad Anklesaria, a professor in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) who runs the event along with his colleague Patrick Haggerty. “You have an idea, you put it in front of judges, and if your idea gets selected somebody helps you along the way to realize it.”

The Mobile App Challenge was created last year as the brainchild of Marvin Marshak, who runs the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program at the U. His department co-sponsors the event with the OIT, providing the resources for participants to get assistance and for the winners and runner-ups to ultimately receive iPads and iPods.

The competition is open only to undergrads, and is not necessarily limited to those with the technical chops to build an application. This is evidenced by last year’s winner, Natalie Doud, a Graphic Design major who entered with no programming experience. Her idea for “Wander,” an app that sets a goal-based itinerary for travelers to explore cities and locate “hidden gems” during short spans of time, caught the interest of judges. She was able to connect with Nate Martin, a Computer Science major, and together they successfully made her idea into a reality.

This year, it’s expected that around 70 students will submit written proposals, due on October 17th. A panel of judges from various departments and professions will whittle that list down to the 20 best ideas, and those teams will put together four-minute video pitches. At that point, the field will be narrowed to 10 teams that will compete over the remainder of the school year. Winners will be selected after a final expo event on April 18th.

“This is a learning experience more than anything else,” says Anklesaria, adding that the goal is not necessarily to bring these apps to production, although students are welcome to pursue that path if they wish as they’ll own intellectual rights to whatever they come up with.

The 10 finalists will be announced on November 21st.