Student Voice


November 29, 2023



‘Ideathon’ challenges students to create innovative business plan

October 24, 2018

“How do you monetize a cow?” Associate Professor and academic advisor Marina Onken proposed this question to a group of about a dozen budding entrepreneur students attending the ‘Ideathon’ event on October 18th. This was her attempt at “shaking out the creative process” and encouraging her students to think outside of the box, whether the idea is viable or not.

According to Onken, when establishing a business, 9 out of 10 startups fail. However, at the Ideathon Innovation Challenge, Onken notes that “failure is a great thing.” Through a series of programs, online or in person, Onken assists students to build an efficient business model canvas, and identify their potential customers. According to Onken, “This process lets you fail very early on,” allowing students to readjust their business models and ‘pivot’ their ideas to another customer base.

This is Onken’s fifth year in the program, and she records “really fantastic success.” Partnered with Lean Start-Up, the Innovation Challenge rewards business ideas and teaches Lean Start-Up methodology to student entrepreneurs. In this competition against fellow students, “there’s money to be won and lots of exposure to be had.” Throughout the on-campus challenge, students can win up to $2,000 in business stipends.

The competition goes until March 13th, 2019. Onken says, “At the Innovation Challenge here on campus, we have about thirty judges that come in, and we invite everyone from the business community. This is something they look forward to every single year. They love hearing your ideas.”

On the day of the competition, applicants have the opportunity to network with businessmen and women who are trawling for possible hires. Not only is networking an additional benefit to competing, but applicants also have to chance to be awarded a grant of $25,000 at the WI Big Idea tournament in Madison, Wisconsin. “That is great seed money for your company,” said Onken.

The challenge, founded by the governor, is open to undergraduates and graduates attending most University of Wisconsin campuses. Registration for a $500 material stipend goes until October 31st, and the competition is held in mid-April 2019.

Another International Business Model Competition is available in the Spring, where Big Idea winners can potentially be awarded an additional $30,000. In past years, the competition has been held in Provo, Utah, in Silicon Valley and near the Microsoft campus in Washington.

“Every year we beat out Harvard,” Onken proudly said. “That’s how good we are.”

Although the ideas and applicants are confidential, the prospects this year seem bright. “Everybody in here has a really great idea, and I think it’s all viable. I think you guys have some good stuff here and some of you are super motivated. I love working with you guys. This is like the highlight of my whole year.”

Former students, according to Onken, enjoy the program from start to finish; it allows them to “practice skills entrepreneurs might need after graduation.”

If any student has a big idea that they would like to mold into a viable business plan, but were unable to attend the first meeting, Onken is agreeable to further contact.

“If they would like to be considered for the $500 stipend, they just need to apply by October 31st. Even after that date, I will still work with them, depending on the idea.”

The next group meeting is on November 13th from 4 to 5 p.m. While the location is to be determined, resources and an event timeline are available on the school website under "UWRF Innovation Challenge."