CULaunch 2016 In Review

Building on the success of last year, our CULaunch business plan pitch event made important strides this year. Last year, we saw four teams compete at the main campus in Mequon in a single tier, two day, winner-take-all competition for the $5,000 grand prize. This year, with a slightly larger budget, and far more competitors, we switched to a two-round competition across five locations, spanning two states.

The ramp-up began at the beginning of the school year. Using our new digital platform,, we were able to have our contestants sign up and submit their ideas digitally, speeding up the process and lowering the physical barriers to participate. The effect was incredible. We had competitors from several non-business disciplines compete, and one took second place in the first round, and another made it to the final round.

We began the competition with an introductory event, where our innovators were introduced to the Strategyzer Business Model Canvas, a tool used to help simplify the business model development process. The innovators were a wide group of people, spanning from undergraduate students to graduate students, faculty members, and community participants, 70 in total. This meet-and-greet helped pair our competitors with mentors, usually business faculty members, to help them develop their idea and pitch.

Over the next several weeks, these inventors and entrepreneurs planned, designed, and developed their ideas into 15-minute pitches. The first round of competitions took place the week of November 14. Monday night, the teams from the Appleton and Madison centers pitched at the Waukesha center. Thursday night, the teams from Waukesha and the Mequon satellite campuses competed at the main Mequon campus, and Saturday morning the main Mequon campus teams competed.

Similar to last year, the Friday before the main campus pitches the teams gathered to hear and give advice to their fellow competitors. The spirit of that night was a mix of anxiety and hope. Dr. Sem gave an encouraging presentation about his time in California, in which he raised 60 million dollars for his startup. Presentations were discussed, changes were made, and the teams were ready. Then came the morning.

We had a good turnout at the main campus with students, faculty, and other participants in attendance. The event began, and each of the 13 teams pitched their proposals. After fielding questions and expanding on points or ideas, the contestants finished and the judges deliberated.

The winners of the first round at the various locations were: Medsync-Rx, a mobile application to help synchronize the relationship between patient and provider; Hougard Klyver LLC, a consulting firm to help with creating ADA-compliant tiny homes; Runway Ready Curls, hair extensions that are pretreated and ready to be used by stylists; and finally, Nothing is Impossible, a line of products with an inspirational story message.

These finalists came together to pitch in the final round on December 8 in front of a new panel of judges. Harald Tomesch, a Concordia theology professor and local winemaker, began the evening discussing his entrepreneurial journey and new product launch on Kickstarter. The product is a device to store open wine indefinitely without it going bad. After his discussion of his product and the challenges he has been facing in the world of entrepreneurship, John DeGraff gave an inspirational talk. John DeGraff is an accomplished entrepreneur, and the cofounder of the Innovatrium Innovation Institute, a company that provides support for startups. His talk covered many of the past innovators as well as some of the factors that help startups reach success.

With three of the teams presenting at the Mequon campus and one team presenting via video conference from Ann Arbor Michigan, the evening proceeded like the first rounds. The judges for the final round were:

  • John DeGraff, Co-founder of the Innovatrium Innovation Institute, and Adjunct

Professor at UW-Whitewater

  • Karen Lerwin, Director of IT Strategy/Business Performance Services at NTT Data Americas

  • Gary Vaughan, Founder of Guidant Business Solutions LLC, Board Member for Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and Director of Fox Valley Technical College Venture Center

  • David Latona, President of Milwaukee Economic Development Corp. (MEDC)

After the teams finished, the judges retired from the room to discuss their decision. Many of the teams congratulated each other, and talked about the various ideas and suggestions they had for each other. The judges returned and announced that Runway Ready Curls, founded by MBA student Nicole Cannon, was the grand prize winner.

For our second year, this growth from one campus and four teams to over 20 teams in several locations, across two states is encouraging and astounding. We have high hopes for the CULaunch program in the future and plan on having more opportunities for our competing teams once the new building is open. A portion of the space has been set aside as a place for innovation and student startups to flourish in our planned new School of Business building, and the CULaunch program will provide funds and faculty support.

For those who wish to compete in the future or those who would like to be involved in the program as a mentor, please keep an eye on and feel free to contact the business school to inquire about how you can participate.