Have you ever wished for a mobile coffee-ordering app with rewards toward free beverages at local coffee shops? Or maybe you could use a one-stop travel booking comparison among cash, credit card rewards and frequent flier miles across multiple airlines to find the best deals.
They’re just two concepts that University of Wisconsin-Madison students have transformed from bright ideas to full-fledged businesses, which they pitched to a panel of expert judges at the annual Transcend Madison Competition, April 11-12, 2019, at the UW-Madison Discovery Building.
Top prize went to the coffee ordering app, called Drip, which already is available for download on the Apple App store and Google Play. Drip co-founder Jack Pawlik, a senior majoring in real estate, took home a $15,000 cash prize along with a trip to San Diego to visit the headquarters of the multinational semiconductors and telecommunications equipment company Qualcomm, a competition sponsor. Pawlik also earned a one-year membership to StartingBlock, Madison’s entrepreneurial hub.
But Pawlik wasn’t the only winner—with more than $55,000 in prize money available, as well as awards for audience favorite, best poster, and most compelling pitch, 14 other student-run startups left with some seed money to help advance their nascent businesses.
Transcend UW is a student organization that links aspiring entrepreneurs with the resources and opportunities they need to create their own ventures. It’s an opportunity for students to learn by doing as they launch their own startups.
“Transcend has cemented itself as the premier hub for entrepreneurship on campus,” says Transcend President Yu-Lin Yang, a junior majoring in electrical and computer engineering.
Although the organization began in the College of Engineering, students from around campus participate. And that, in a nutshell, is the point. “Transcend gives us the opportunity to interact with other students from all across the university,” says Vedant Agrawal, a senior majoring in industrial and systems engineering. “It’s great to interact with people with so many different points of view.”
Agrawal and his teammates presented their concept for Navi Wearables, a hands-free navigation technology for pedestrians and cyclists that provides turn-by-turn directions in the form of gentle haptic pulses on the back of a glove.
More than 30 teams demonstrated prototypes and pitched business plans to a panel of expert judges at the innovation competition. The two-day contest represented the culmination of many months of work.
Yet the students didn’t toil in isolation; Transcend UW guides young entrepreneurs through every step of the process.
Before the competition, teams participated in business brief workshops, intellectual property seminars, and project review sessions with the option to attend pitch coaching tutorials as well.
“Transcend gave us milestones, which was helpful to move our business forward,” says Luke Presberg, a senior majoring in economics.
Presberg co-founded Woav, an all-in-one mobile shopping app that enables users to discover and compare direct-to-consumer apparel brands (think a one-stop shop to find pieces from those now-ubiquitous clothing advertisements that appear on social media for companies like TAYLRD or Flynn Skyye).
In addition to helping students make progress, the Transcend Madison Competition also helps newly formed companies earn much-needed funding to get their businesses up and running. Prize money is available to both early-stage and main-stage competitors (so that still-immature concepts aren’t forced to compete against more established ventures).
In years past, prize winners have included Pathogenomica, a single-shot microbe-profiling company that harnesses the power of DNA sequencing to identify all the potentially harmful, as well as benign, microbes in samples of drinking water or agricultural products; Linectra, an additive manufacturing company that enables metallic 3D printing; and LineLeap, a mobile “fastpass” app that allows users to buy expedited entry to popular bars and nightclubs in 17 cities across America.
Winning concepts must not only demonstrate technological innovation, but also show how a company based on the product can be commercially viable.
“It’s not just about the most impressive technology,” says Yang. “We judge very holistically: We look at if it’s a commercially innovative product and we evaluate whether it has the potential to make money.”
View photos from the prototype showcase in the slideshow below. Here’s the complete list of winners:
Best Poster: Cloogle ($1,000)
Best Prototype: OrthoSpoon ($1,000)
Best Pitch: FlexCards ($1,000)
Social Entrepreneurship: I Am Here ($1,000)
Best Business Brief: The Story Teller ($1,000)
Main Stage Supplementary Prizes
Best Poster: Planet Pong ($3,000)
Best Prototype: QueueShare ($3,000)
Best Pitch: Woav ($3,000)
Social Entrepreneurship: Gastric Cancer Screening Device ($3,000)
Best Business Brief: Fashion Cam ($3,000)
Other Supplementary Prizes
Fan Favorite: Bikenamic ($2,500)
Transcend Alumni: I Am Here ($500)
Main Stage Top Prizes
3rd Place: TripAlly ($8,000 and six-month StartingBlock membership)
2nd Place: All Brick Medical ($10,000 and six-month StartingBlock membership)
1st Place: Drip ($15,000, one-year StartingBlock membership, trip to Qualcomm)
Author: Sam Million-Weaver