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UW-Green Bay, UW-Whitewater, UW-Milwaukee students take home prizes in 2018 Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament

WBIT winners, left to right: James Van Eerden, UW-Milwaukee, 3rd place; Sam Hunt, UW-Green Bay, 1st place; Sam Lepak & Evan Laird, UW-Whitewater, 2nd place

Twelve UW System student teams came together in Madison this spring to embody the future of entrepreneurship in Wisconsin.

The teams were selected by nine UW System regional comprehensive campuses to present their business plans in the 2018 Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament (WBIT), presented by WiSys. Their ideas ranged from a scalable vertical farming system and a portable yard game to social media and charitable donation apps.

This year's judging panel included Lorrie Keating Heinemann, from the Madison Development Corporation; Jessica Martin-Eckerly, from WiCell; Troy Vosseller, from gener8tor; and Idella Yamben, from the Center for Technology Commercialization. Successful pitches didn't just include a great idea, but also the teams' assumptions, the processes by which they validated those assumptions, and the "pivots" they had to make to improve their business plans.

The judges selected UW-Green Bay senior Sam Hunt as the first place winner with his idea, "The Local Food Experiment." Sam's business plan addresses the issues of food-related chronic disease and agricultural water pollution by maximizing the convenience and affordability of nutritious, eco-friendly eating in the Green Bay area.

As the statewide champion, Sam won a $2,500 cash prize from WiSys and paid travel to the International Business Model Competition in Provo, Utah, where he is eligible to win up to an additional $30,000 to develop his business.

Taking second place, UW-Whitewater students Sam Lepak and Evan Laird presented their business plan for "Pintful Peanut Butter," a vegan, non-GMO, gluten, soy and dairy-free peanut butter with 50% more plant-based protein than standard peanut butter. They were awarded $1,500 by WiSys to add to the $9,000 they have raised through their Kickstarter campaign.

UW-Milwaukee student James Van Eerden earned the third place title and $750 for "Light Fruit Company," the first dehydrated melon snack company.

Each team delivered an impressive pitch detailing their process and focusing on what they have learned, as well as their next steps.

“The high quality of ideas and the presentations tell me that the future of entrepreneurship in Wisconsin is bright,” WiSys President Arjun Sanga said. “I want to congratulate not only the winners, but all teams, as any one of their business ideas could turn into a viable company. I also want to thank our key partners, University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, whose support espouses the Wisconsin Idea and allows us in turn to support innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the state.”

About the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament

WBIT is an entrepreneurship competition open to undergraduate and graduate students attending any two- or four-year University of Wisconsin school across the state (except UW-Madison). It teaches cutting-edge Lean Startup business development tools, provides business mentorship, and allows participants to compete at a state level for a chance to win seed funding for their idea as well as a chance to compete internationally at the International Business Model Competition (IBMC).

WiSys partners with the regional comprehensive campuses across the UW System to host campus-wide qualifying competitions to select WBIT participants. Students travel to Madison to compete against other campus' winners. Teams can also apply to an At-Large round to compete in the state final.

About WiSys

WiSys is a 501 (c)(3) supporting organization of the University of Wisconsin System. WiSys supports 11 four-year universities, 13 freshman-sophomore UW College campuses and statewide UW-Extension to foster a systemwide culture of innovation, identify innovative technologies and bring them to the marketplace.