Innovation Fund Challenge
Student Innovation Fund Challenge awards early-stage seed funding
When Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen issued a grand invitation to “Innovate at Iowa State,” student innovators began to pop up everywhere — in their colleges, courses, at the Student Innovation Center and Pappajohn Center. Student teams began to conquer local and global problems such as minimizing our carbon footprint, and solving water shortages in Ullo Africa, creating biosecurity protocols for swine operations.
And then alumni David Slump added fuel to the fire when he founded the Student Innovation Fund, which offers early-stage seed funding to student teams who have innovated, tested and proposed unique solutions to the needs and problems of people, communities and the world.
David Slump, president of global markets, strategy and services at HARMAN and innovator-in-residence for the Student Innovation Center, founded the fund to expand innovation beyond the center’s walls and to provide students with hands-on experience.
The Student Innovation Fund challenge annually invests in interdisciplinary student teams to promote learning and provide an experience of hands-on innovation. The challenge awards a total of $10,000 in early-stage seed funding to a limited number of teams.
Four student teams presented their early-stage projects to a panel of five judges during the Ignite Innovation Showcase in April 2021. At the end of the showcase, during an awards ceremony on Friday, April 23, three teams were awarded early-seed funding. The teams included:
- Insect-Decide: Brenner Stickney, Taylor Warneke, Luke Becker, Joy Westercamp and Jiztom Kavalakkatt Francis.
- We Can Honey-Do It: Kate Borchardt, Elizabeth Smith, Elena Frogge, Olivia Liebing and Julianna Hernandez-Garcia
- REFORM: Ayman Karmi, Andrew Ruba, Alexander Thayer, Haley Schultz, Emily Huntley, John Kaman, Adam Eichhorn, Abigail Stanlick, Shaden Tweeten, Harold Sandahl, Rebecca Mort, Matthew Marander, Matthew Hines, Parker Houdeshell, Samantha Morrow, Abigail Freymuth, Skyler Lee.
Funded teams will continue their project and create a prototype to present at next year’s challenge, working with the Student Innovation Fellows Program and accessing resources available at the Student Innovation Center.
Slump said he hopes to see three things by next year.
“First, the award recipients this year successfully pull off their innovations and find it for the next round of funding,” he said. “Second, we see more applicants next year. Third, we see even more link to societal problems that can be solved with disruptive technology and innovation.”
What is the Student Innovation Fund Challenge?
The Student Innovation Fund Challenge annually invests in interdisciplinary student teams to promote learning and provide an experience of hands-on innovation.
The Challenge will select a limited number of teams awarding a total of $10,000.
Awarded teams will have access to Student Innovation Center resources as they create solutions to real-world problems.
Students should take advantage of the Student Innovation Fellows program to prepare and “vet” their projects. The program also connects them with industry and university advisors.
Student teams can submit requests for funding for proposed projects that are encouraged to encompass all the following features: identify a problem, imagine a solution, recruit a diverse team of collaborators, and create a solution that results in meaningful advancement in solving the problem identified.
The Annual Challenge promotes early-stage innovation as opposed to business start-up, entrepreneurship, product launch, and commercialization.
The Fund invests in projects that will result in a minimal viable product, service, or program. Award winners will go on to demonstrate the feasibility of solutions.
The best applicants will recruit teams that comprise mostly full-time undergraduate students but may also include part-time undergraduate and/or post-graduate students in good standing at the Iowa State University. Teams will demonstrate diversity in academic focus, race, and gender.
Application Form and Video Presentations
All materials will be submitted through the Student Innovation Center application.
The designated student lead will submit an application form summarizing the project and identify team members.
The team will also submit a video clip of 3 minutes that provides a compelling case for solving a specific problem, a clear path for how the team will solve the problem together, and a rationale for why and how the team is uniquely qualified to deliver a minimal viable product, service, or program.
Finalists will be chosen from the pool of applicants and will have an additional three weeks to prepare a 10-minute presentation that will be given in person before a panel of judges on April 22, 2021.
Project Requirements and Recommendations
Funding may be used for travel, market research, samples, parts, equipment, or supplies. Funding may not be used for clothing, food, and beverages or stipends for students and/or faculty. Proposals must include a budget for requested allowable expenditures.
In the initial 2021 year, a total of up to $10,000 is available for funding. Multiple recipients may be selected for funding at the discretion of the committee.
2/5/21 — Application period opens
3/5/21 — Application period closes
4/1/21 — Applicants will be notified of finalists to proceed to the final round
4/22/21 — Finalists will present their proposals to judges
4/23/21 — Finalists will be notified of the award
Innovation Fund Challenge Tips
What is a Minimum Viable Product?
A Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, is a product with enough features to validate a product idea early in the product development cycle and attract early-adopter customers. In software, the MVP can help the product team receive user feedback as quickly as possible to iterate and improve the product.
What is a Minimal Viable Service?
A Minimal Viable Service, or MVS, is the least you can provide, as a service, to prove you are delivering your intended solution to the problem and that it delivers value to your target customer.
What is a Minimal Viable Civic Program?
A Minimal Viable Civic Program, or MVC, is the least you can provide, as a program, to prove you are delivering your intended impact to your target stakeholders.
What is an MVx?
Generically, a Minimum Viable x where x is either “Product, Service or Civic program”.
What is the Purpose of a MVx?
It is the version of a new product/service/program that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort.
A project team would develop and release an MVx because the team wants to:
Release a product/service/program to the market as quickly as possible
Test an idea with real users before committing a large budget to the product/service/program’s full development
Learn what resonates with the company’s target market and what doesn’t
In addition to allowing your team to validate an idea for a new product/service/program without having to build the entire business, an MVP can also help minimize the time and resources you might otherwise commit to building something that won’t succeed.
Often used for early-stage seed funding investments to gain enough evidence for further rounds of larger funding.
Research the problem and find data that demonstrates the impact of that problem on people, places, businesses, economies, practices, cultures
Tell a story about the problem with enough facts and data that makes it real
Create a sense of urgency and significance about the scope and impact of the problem
Share why this problem is relevant to you personally or consider interviews with users who suffer from the problem
Make certain to align the right problem with the right solution
Determining the feasibility of your solution or how you propose validating its feasibility
Make certain you are proposing “innovation” or “invention” as opposed to replicating something already done (innovation can be a “what” in the form of a product or service, or a new “method” in the form of a new process or business model, etc.)
Choose something that demonstrates imagination, novelty, and risk
Identify the users of your invention (e.g. stakeholders that benefit from the problem being solved)
Identify the skills needed to execute the proof-of-concept
Look for people with core skills in communication, organization, project management as well as engineering, finance, testing, and leadership
Consider inviting specialists on your team to review major milestones
Define how your team is uniquely qualified
Consider that your qualifications are also the partnerships and resources you bring
Identify potential customers or partners who would be willing to commit to investing if your project is successful
Go beyond conceptualization; provide detailed technical goals, methods, processes, outcomes
Identify major hurdles to overcome and the risk mitigation plans
Address failure and contingencies
Measure and determine the scale of your solution to the problem as concretely as possible. The impact of the solution should make some significant impact on the problem.
Consider how the solution could be scaled if successful.
Incorporate “in-kind” contributions in your budget — equipment, external expertise, access
Consider how you would promote the project to inspire and brand Iowa State Innovation
Consider how you would share your experience and recruit others
Determine what differentiates your team, your project, your impact
Consider getting testimonials supporting the project or the team
The project team advances Iowa State’s reputation
Application Prep Workshops & Coaching
Join us on the following days to get information about the Student Innovation Fund, tips on how to prep and apply, and coaching to prepare yourself for the competition.
|11/1/21||6:30-7:30||register below for a zoom link||Innovation Fund Introduction|
|11/15/21||6:30-7:30||IFS: Pitch 1|
|11/29/21||6:30-7:30||IFS: Pitch 2|
|1/31/22||6:30-7:30||IFS: Pitch 3|
|2/7/2022||6:30-7:30||IFS: Workshop 1/2 day|
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