Utah Entrepreneur Challenge
Building a Community of Innovators
The Utah Entrepreneur Challenge has always been about opening doors to business opportunity. That was particularly true this year as Portal, a student startup from Brigham Young University, took home the $40,000 grand prize for inventing a revolutionary way to open doors for wheelchair users.
In the concurrent High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, WeldSmart, a team from Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, won the $7,500 grand prize for inventing a welding hood that controls power to the welder to prevent arc flash.
These two teams weren’t the only ones who left the April 7 statewide student business model competition as winners. The best part about the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge is that it provides an opportunity for many students to succeed.
In addition to the grand prizes, university-level challenge participants competed for a whopping $60,000 in cash and prizes, while participants at the high-school level competed for $12,500 in cash and prizes.
Behind the scenes, a team of 20 university students ran the competition from start to finish and received Lassonde Endowment scholarships for their efforts.
The Next Great Idea
Even after the challenge ends, students continue to reap the benefits. “We follow participants the best we can to see where they end up,” says Troy D’Ambrosio, executive director of the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, that manages the challenge in partnership with sponsor Zions Bank. “If you look at the top five teams for each year of the competition, they’ve resulted in some really successful businesses.”
Part of that is because of the applied business experience participants receive during the competition. “Years ago, we had college students create 30-page business plans,” D’Ambrosio says. “Now they create two-page executive summaries and a video, which are the skills they need for digital marketing campaigns and the market today.”
Another reason for the high rate of participant business success is their exposure during the competition to industry professionals, community experts and early-stage investors.
“The investment community sees our competition as a source for the next great business idea,” D’Ambrosio says. “These investors are on our judging panels and in the audience and often follow ideas they see here.”
Incredibly, D’Ambrosio sees the quality of student ideas increasing every year in lockstep with the maturity of the challenge, which just completed its 18th year. “Before Zions Bank joined us as a sponsor, we were more like a science fair, all theoretical — and student ideas were pretty limited to student life experiences,” D’Ambrosio says. “Now we see participants thinking globally to create products with real and meaningful applications in people’s lives, such as medical and mobility devices.”
The fact that those ideas are increasingly coming from a broader population of students statewide is also notable. This year’s top eight university teams hailed from five institutions: Utah State University, Utah Valley University, Dixie State University, Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.
For D’Ambrosio, it all comes down to connecting young innovators to the knowledge, people and resources they need to transform their best ideas into reality. “With the Utah Entrepreneurial Challenge, our overriding goal is to build a community of entrepreneurs that will change the world.”
Winners of the 2018 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge
Zions Cash Prize Awards:
- Grand Prize Award ($40,000): Portal
- Second Place ($10,000): ProLink
- Third Place ($5,000): BayWatch Technologies
- Emerging Entrepreneur 1 ($1,500): Electrochrome LLC
- Emerging Entrepreneur 2 ($1,500): ScreenLog
- Best Speed Pitch Award ($1,000): Portal
- People’s Choice Video Prize ($1,000): Electrochrome LLC
- Stoel Rives Best Technology Award ($5,000 value): RhinoStasis
- Snell & Wilmer Intellectual Property Award ($5,000 value): Portal
- Espiritu Best Design Award ($2,000 value): Portal
Additional Cash Prizes:
- The Actium Bootstrap Award ($1,000): Maple Canyon Adventures
- The Jones Waldo People’s Choice Video Award ($1,000): Electrochrome LLC
Top 20 winners packet (All teams):
- Zions Bank: Top 20 Finalist Award ($500)
- Workman Nyedeggar: One-hour intellectual property consultation and patent search ($250)
- Tanner Co.: Two hours financial consultation ($500)
- Impact Hub: 50 percent off coworking membership ($100/month)
Winners of the 2017 High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge
- Grand Prize Winner, $7,500 (Zions Bank): WeldSmart
- 2nd Place Winner, $5,000 (Zions Bank): Ask Manny App
- 3rd Place Winner, $2,500 (Zions Bank): Tile Support Pedestal
Lassonde Studios Scholarships, $1,000 each (Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute): Jack Leonard (Geo Focus), Isaac Bromley-Dulfano (Water Widget), Kael Berkley (Tile Support Pedestal), Brennah Strange (Recovery Wear), Michael Jones (Castable), William Maloy (Retractable Road Reflector), Colin Pollard (Water Widget), Maira Howcroft (The “Orca”), Sela Serafin (mySTYLIST)
- Intellectual Property Protection Package (Snell & Wilmer; $5,000 value): WeldSmart
- People’s Choice Award, $1,000 (Zions Bank): mySTYLIST
- Best Prototype Award, $500 (Zions Bank): The Wolf’em Stick Pro
- STEM Entrepreneur Award, $1,000 (STEM Action Center): Seymour
- Top Online Vote Award, $500 (Zions Bank): Ask Manny App
- Finalist Award, $100 each (Zions Bank): All Top 20 teams won an additional $100