Over 100 students gather on the main floor of the Duderstadt Center, creating a crowd that is unusual for a typical Monday night at the library. Separated into 23 groups of four to five members, they sit at blue tables lining the walkway outside Mujo cafe.

These students are innovative, excited, and determined to win. After all, there’s $800 on the line!

The Innovation Challenge is a yearly entrepreneurial game that challenges participants from all schools and colleges to design, build, plan and execute, utilizing teamwork and networking. The game is presented by the Center for Entrepreneurship and student group MPowered, serving as a recruiting event for the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program and TechLab at Mcity.

This year, teams were tasked with the lofty goal of building an electric vehicle, and then racing their vehicle against the other teams to win.

Each team started with a basic materials kit, including one motor, batteries, a battery pack, a razor, and a cutting board. 

The rest of each team’s building materials had to be earned by answering trivia questions for points. The trivia sheet included questions such as, “When was the CFE established?” and “Name a venture capital firm in Ann Arbor.” For each correct answer, teams received 100 points.

After showing off their entrepreneurial knowledge, students redeemed their points at a materials “store.” The store included items like pipe cleaners, wheels and axles, toothpicks, and legos – not exactly what you have in mind when you think of an electric vehicle! 

Once students had completed the trivia game and redeemed their building materials, it was time to start the challenge. As a 75-minute countdown displayed for all teams to see, the volume level of the room nearly exploded as students started planning, building, and testing their mini electric vehicles.

Building an electric vehicle in just over an hour is no small feat, but the time limit wasn’t the only challenge students faced during the game.

First, students had to figure out how to make the motor drive the wheels of their cars. However, they had to be careful with how much they tested their creations, as they’d wear out the batteries powering the car. Additionally, students had to carefully balance building materials to be sure their vehicle wouldn’t veer off course or crash during the race.

“Some of the cars really had the need for speed and were on track to pass other cars.  However, it was crucial to ensure proper alignment – some cars veered all over the place leaving the slow and steady car to win the race,” said Crista Deneau, Entrepreneurial Practice Program Manager at the Center for Entrepreneurship.

As the minutes flew by, eventually the timer alarm sounded. It was time for the race! Within those 75 minutes, the majority of teams were able to create working vehicles using the unconventional materials provided. Students placed their vehicles at the starting line, released them, and the race was officially on.

While all teams gave the challenge a valiant effort, two teams beat their competition to the finish line, splitting the $800 cash prize. 

Team 9 included Charles Weber, Daniel Heller, Abigail Labbe, and Kexin Li.

Team 18 consisted of Pranav Venugopal, Manu Aatitya Raajan Priyadharshini, Zhixuan Wu, and Yi Wang.

Answering trivia questions, building a functional vehicle, and beating the other teams were all key elements of this challenge. The real fun, however, came from the teamwork and innovation between students from a diverse set of majors, disciplines, and specialities. 

“Students each found their own role and way to contribute to the goal of the team.  Seeing students come from all different backgrounds and disciplines, working together on this project was really spectacular,” said Crista Deneau.

 

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