An enterprising UConn alumnus is helping sponsor an innovation competition this spring, to encourage would-be student and faculty entrepreneurs to pursue their ideas and have the chance of winning up to $15,000 and develop start-up ventures.
Innovation Quest (IQ) is a competition created to identify projects with potential commercial value and help the creators find the resources to develop and market their products, says Keith R. Fox, CEO of the Keith and Pamela Fox Family Foundation, who earned his undergraduate degree from the UConn School of Business in 1980.
“It’s open to the entire University community, any student with an idea in any college can apply,” says Fox, who serves as an advisor to the dean of UConn’s School of Business.
“It’s all about fostering innovation and enterprise with a mission to create companies and jobs,” adds Fox, who also served as a board member of the University of Connecticut Foundation and was founder and CEO of Brandsoft, an enterprise software and consulting company.
IQ has scheduled a kickoff open house for 7 p.m. on Feb. 1 in Room 134 of the CUE Building, where a team of current students and UConn alumni will explain the competition guidelines and provide detailed instructions on how to enter and win Innovation Quest. More about the new alumni-sponsored competition can be found at http://iq.innovationq.org/index.html
Adam Boyajian and Michael Parelli, both seniors majoring in business who are helping handle the marketing and logistics of the contest, hope that 100 students from across the University submit online proposals for the competition; and they envision successful companies coming out of UConn over the next five years.
“There is a huge reservoir of ideas among the University community for IQ to tap,” Boyajian says. “The top-performing prospects are eligible to join IQ’s six-week summer incubator program and develop their own start-up company.”
For IQ’s debut competition at UConn, students and faculty are invited to submit their ideas and/or inventions. Participants will first go through a series of workshops, networking, and mentoring sessions aimed at encouraging them to develop their ideas from concept to project. While it is hoped that the projects developed for the competition will reflect real opportunities, there is no obligation for the winners to implement their business plans.
In March, a panel of 12 judges comprised of UConn faculty and alumni will narrow the field to seven finalists, who then pitch their ideas to an IQ Board. The board will select three winners: the first-place winner will be awarded $15,000, second-place will receive $10,000, and third-place, $5,000. At the conclusion of the contest, the winners should be ready to make a pitch to investors and launch a company.
Fostering innovation in today’s young entrepreneurs through programs such as IQ is imperative to driving future technology, says Fox. He explains that IQ, a non-profit philanthropic enterprise, was created in 2003 by successful Cal Poly alumni interested in giving back to their university and enhancing entrepreneurship at the same time.
To date, the non-profit has helped create 15 profitable companies since launching the annual innovation contest, says Fox, who knows several of the Cal Poly electronic engineering alumni involved in creating the IQ contest. “One of the businesses was sold for eight million dollars to Google.”
Given the competition’s success at Cal Poly, Fox was prompted to replicate the contest at UConn. “It’s a good fit for UConn,” he says, adding, “this will help students launch into another career rather than just work for a company. It takes some of the stigma away from not being able to find a job. You become a hero if you create your own company.”
“Keith [Fox] came to us with IQ at the perfect time,” says Mary Holz- Clause, UConn’s new vice-president for economic development, citing the growing number of entrepreneurial programs and activities on campus, including the Storrs Technology Park, a recently established UConn Entrepreneurs Club, and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI) business plan competition, also this spring.
“Student interest in entrepreneurship has never been stronger, and IQ offers promising student ventures the dedicated and ongoing support needed to ensure their success,” Holz-Clause says. “Startups are a great source of employment for recent graduates and can make an important contribution to the state’s economic future.”