‘My Advice to Future Entrepreneurs is: TRY!’

UConn’s highly successful iQ entrepreneurship competition prepares for 12th season

Emily Yale '21, who turned her Innovation Quest proposal into a thriving business, works on lawn equipment on a sunny day, with trees in the background.

Emily Yale '21 has turned her iQ idea into a thriving business. She says it's critical for would-be entrepreneurs to be willing to leave their comfort zones and try new ideas (contributed photo).

Entrepreneurship professor Rich Dino gets asked all the time: Can students really turn a novel idea into a successful company?

His answer is “Most definitely!”

“We believe that creative ideas, ambition, great advisers, and a willingness to learn are the combination that creates successful entrepreneurs,’’ he says. “There are no age restrictions on innovation.’’

Dino and Keith Fox ’80 (BUS), a former senior executive at Apple and Cisco, have spent the last 12 years proving that fact. Next week they will kick off the 12th annual Innovation Quest (iQ) competition, which offers UConn undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni, the chance to test their ideas and abilities as entrepreneurs.

Fox describes the student entrepreneurs as bright, hardworking, and self-motivated. “I could not be more optimistic when I see this group of young people applying themselves to solve some of the world’s most complex challenges,” he says.

Participants Vie for $30,000 in Prize Money

Since its inception, iQ participants have created dozens of companies. Their innovations range from improved pacemakers for heart patients to at-home male fertility tests, baseball training devices for serious athletes, and even a videogame that fosters understanding of mental health issues.

The iQ program kicks off on Feb. 8 with the first of four workshops. The programs begin at 6:30 p.m. and are presented online for the convenience of students. The program teaches participants business skills, connects them with a network of professionals, and prepares them for a final competition, held in late March, and the chance to win a piece of the $30,000 in prize money.

To register, please visit https://innovationquest.uconn.edu and click on “Workshops.”

Land Maverick Offers a Greener Golf Course

Emily Yale ’21 (BUS) is the CEO and founder of Land Maverick, a New Haven County company that is revolutionizing the chemical applications on golf courses.

Using advanced robotic systems and handheld devices, Land Maverick is able to provide golf courses with 20 times more information about their property—including moisture level and pH of soil—to enhance decisions about applying fungicide and other chemical treatments.

Yale, who came up with the idea as an undergraduate and fine-tuned her business while earning a master’s degree in engineering and global entrepreneurship at UConn, was a standout in the 2019 iQ competition.

“My advice to a future entrepreneur is: try!,’’ Yale says. “Try everything you possibly can. Try iQ. Talk to other teams and potential teammates. The UConn entrepreneurship ecosystem is expansive, and there is something for everyone to try.’’

Entrepreneur Nicholas Anderson: ‘Never Get Discouraged’

Nicholas Anderson ’22 (BUS), was a junior majoring in finance when he took third place in the iQ competition with his business called FLUSH Warranty. The company offers a first-of-its-kind home protection plan that insures all aspects of a septic system, potentially saving homeowners up to $25,000. He got the idea working at a family sanitation and septic business.

In the last two years, the Clinton-based company has continued to grow, acquiring another septic service and the hiring of additional employees.

“The best advice I can give to anyone starting out is to never be discouraged by failure,’’ Anderson says. “This is a very hard thing to do in the beginning because it takes time to learn from your mistakes. There were actually customers who weren’t interested in FLUSH Warranty two years ago, but now we’ve been able to convert them by learning from our initial mistakes.’’

Anderson says iQ gave him tremendous support, including experts to discuss ideas and perspectives with, advisers to look over his contract and mentors to help fine-tune his presentation to potential customers.

At iQ Program, ‘Everyone Wants You to Succeed’

Mary “Lexy’’ Vecchio, the owner and lead developer at Ursa Mayhem Media, was last year’s $15,000 grand prize winner. The company puts an emphasis on mental health issues, including how trauma can affect both body and mind. In her video game, ‘Here There Be Bears!,’ she strives to use interactive storytelling to mimic PTSD, something that Vecchio suffered following a serious ski accident at age 11.

“I’m grateful that Innovation Quest gave me access to the financial and educational resources to turn my mental-health game concept into a growing company, Ursa Mayhem Media,’’ says Vecchio, a Tolland native who is pursuing an MFA in Digital Media and Design. “IQ gives participants access to fantastic mentorship [from] business professionals willing to share their well-earned knowledge and guide participants into further business development.’’

“Whether your innovation is in the realm of STEM, or something you would consider to have more of an artistic focus, believe in your design,’’ she says. “Be knowledgeable about your product and make sure to ask questions whenever you have them. The process can be intimidating, but everyone working with you wants you to succeed!’’

SedMed Founders: ‘People Believed in Us’

Jeremy Bronen ’20 (ENG) and Timothy Krupski ’15 (ENG) ’21 MS  ’21 MBA have raised more than $800,000 in seed investment for their company SedMed, which provides mobility products to elderly and disabled people. Their inaugural product, a toilet-lift device, is already on the consumer market.

The entrepreneurs took second place in the 2021 iQ competition and received a $10,000 award for their startup. Bronen recalls their first business pitch, when all they had was a picture on a screen but no prototype.

“People believed in us, our team and our willingness to give it our all,’’ Bronen says. He credits Dino, Fox and the rest of the entrepreneurship team for helping the business partners start in the right direction.

“In my opinion, networking with and learning from young, successful entrepreneurs is key to launching a startup,’’ says Bronen, whose company is based in New Haven. “UConn iQ provided a very strong mentor network that connected us to pivotal mentors.’’


To register, please visit https://innovationquest.uconn.edu and click on “Workshops.”