While the setting was certainly different than past years, the CFE’s annual Innovation Challenge still gave students the opportunity to hone their entrepreneurial skills in an immersive and creative environment. 

For the last five years the Center for Entrepreneurship has hosted an Innovation Challenge event during the fall semester to engage students in a fun, interactive, and competitive game that highlights the entrepreneurial mindset. 

This is the largest recruitment event for the CFE in support of the Immersive Fellowship Programs, the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program, TechLab at Mcity, and TechLab Climate Change. Each year the Challenge has evolved; however, this year saw the most significant departure from tradition as the event was run in a fully virtual environment.

More than 70 students and 18 alumni judges participated in the event hosted on Zoom. Students were tasked with forming teams and developing a high-impact entrepreneurial idea to address a societal challenge associated with one of three themes: healthcare, climate change, or advanced mobility. 

“It’s been so uplifting to see the students innovate how they develop teams, communicate, and create solutions to significant global challenges even in a digital environment at the Innovation Challenge,” said Assistant Director of Entrepreneurial Practice Nick Moroz.

The students were initially given 90 minutes to prepare a presentation for the judges that would include identifying a distinct entrepreneurial opportunity, a thoughtful solution, potentially a prototype, a budget, known risks, and even customer outreach. Technical difficulties postponed the presentations by a few days, but the students, judges, and CFE adapted to complete a wonderful event that culminated in awards for the top three teams:

$500 First Place Prize: NeXt 911 – Bob Der, Sam Forman, Samay Shamdasani, Jonathan Tish, and Varun Jindal – Next-generation 911 infrastructure for emergency agencies using AI and novel internet communications to reduce response time that could help during natural disaster recovery.

“I was continually surprised in the best of ways,” said team member Bob Der. “The team that we cobbled together gelled and built a creative solution to a complex and timely problem. 

“The opportunity to learn from three distinguished judges was a one-of-a-kind experience that I recommend to people interested in entrepreneurship.”

$200 Second Place Prize: the Aero Filter – Elton Lin, Jenny Park, Peter Bruchnak, and Vidyuth Suresh – Novel filtration device to remove hydrocarbons from vehicle exhaust powered by the air flow through and around passenger cars and trucks.

“As a freshman at Michigan starting off with little knowledge in entrepreneurship, this immersive opportunity allowed me to gain so much entrepreneurial experience in a short period of time,” said team member Jenny Park. “The Innovation Challenge definitely served as a gateway to entrepreneurship for me. 

“What I enjoyed most about this challenge was being able to talk to other entrepreneurs and like-minded peers and further developing our idea together through possible risks and challenges. The advice that was given to us by the judges and our mentor, Connor Borrego, will remain as important lessons for me throughout my career.”

$100 Third Place Prize: Greener – Sukrit Gill, Aveek Duttagupta, and Chinmay Savanur – An app to make it easier and more accessible, and more beneficial, for consumers to make purchasing decisions based on the environmental impact of products. 

“I would say for me the entire experience was a unique opportunity to express my entrepreneurial creativity in a team setting while meeting real-world entrepreneurs,” said team member Aveek Duttagupta. “The feedback from our presentations also gave me a whole new perspective on creating a startup.”

15 student teams competed in the Challenge with their final presentations judged by panels of entrepreneurial alumni. Given the circumstances, the event was quite successful in bringing together students from a wide variety of backgrounds and academic programs to lean into their creativity and entrepreneurial mindset.