The Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge is a statewide venture competition that lets student teams pitch their best ideas to a panel of judges.Boise State’s College of Innovation and Design is directing the competition — now in its fourth year — on campus March 15-16. This year’s teams will compete for a share of $100,000 in seed money to grow their businesses.
More than 90 teams applied to compete this year, an all-time high, said Jeff Benton, a Boise State director of development and the director of the competition. Worldwide and local panels winnowed those applicants down to 24 top teams. Teams competing this year come from University of Idaho, Idaho State University, The College of Idaho, Brigham Young University Idaho, as well as Boise State.
“The Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge is an opportunity for higher education students across the state to demonstrate their entrepreneurial capabilities,” said Benton.
Teams have been working with coaches at their schools to “come up with an idea that will change an industry, change a process and make an impact,” he said.
Teams will compete in four “tracks:” Agriculture and Agriculture Technology; Health and Healthy Living; Technology; Consumer Product or Service; and Social, Cultural or Environmental Impact.
The technology track, said Benton, has attracted the most competitors this year, with students creating new mobile apps, or other tools to transform business.
The competition will include student teams pitching their ideas, in the style of the popular television show “Shark Tank,” to three different judges’ panels. This year, 31 judges from the Treasure Valley and across the United States will choose the top teams. Judges include Tara Russell, founder, president and global impact lead at Fathom, who will be the first resident of a new program, the Venture College’s Women in Leadership Residence, Rose Wang, chief executive officer and co-founder of Chirps, a food company featured on “Shark Tank,” and Rohan Gopaldes, chief executive officer and co-founder of Gamer Sensei, a platform for competitive gamers.
Zions Bank is the main sponsor of the challenge, and is donating the prize money, along with Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center that is sponsoring the Health and Healthy Living track.
Winning teams may use their prize money to build prototypes, develop a logo or a website, or create a marketing plan — or for any other project that helps their business.
“Students receive incredible feedback from these business leaders who can share their stories and successes, and help students with their own ventures. That’s invaluable,” said Benton.
Judges are all donating their time and expertise to the event, free of charge.
“What I love about it is watching these teams being so nervous at first,” he said. The teams go through three rounds of panels. “The first round is always rough. The second is better. By the third time, they just nail it. They’re dropping the mic.”
Last year’s winners included two teams from Boise State, Silent Arrow, competing in the technology track, and berry box, competing in the health track. Another winner was Style Her Empowered, a nonprofit founded by University of Idaho’s Payton McGriff. The organization empowers young women by providing school uniforms and sewing training to improve access to education in developing countries. McGriff said she used her $15,000 prize to launch a pilot program in Togo, Africa, in July, 2017.
“Today, we employ a fulltime seamstress and program coordinator in Togo, and we have 65 girls sponsored in our program,” said McGriff.
While the pitch sessions are closed, the event is open to the public from 3:30-5 p.m. on Friday, March 16, in the ballroom of the Alumni and Friends Center. All 24 teams will have displays and will be available to discuss their ideas.
“And we welcome any investors who might like to come and talk to the teams,” said Benton.
The awards are also public and will take place from 5-6 p.m., also in the ballroom.