University students gear up for MN entrepreneurship event

For the past seven years, five of the student division winners were from the University.
April 09, 2013

While some students dream of being a doctor or lawyer, others hope to distill their own gin, develop mobile games or sell yogurt.

Minnesota Cup, a business entrepreneurship competition co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, is made for just those students.

Since its first run nine years ago, MN Cup has evolved to include more divisions, sponsors, promotions, judges and prize money — making it a unique experience for the state’s hopeful entrepreneurs, according to John Stavig, professional director of the Holmes Center.

“It’s become the largest statewide new venture competition in the country,” he said.

Finalists from the past four years alone have gone on to raise more than $60 million, he said. And within the student division, the University has dominated, he said, winning five of the past seven years.

But there’s a grand prize of $40,000 plus division winnings up for grabs for students, said Scott Litman, co-founder of MN Cup.

The competition provides a framework for developing ideas into reality and making connections with other entrepreneurs as well as resources and publicity.

Litman said his own personal experiences as a young Carlson School of Management graduate inspired him to form MN Cup.

“When I was a student, I competed in a competition like this,” he said. “It was a catalyst for my early entrepreneurial success, and so years later we thought to pay it forward.”

Connie Rutledge, a MN Cup judge, said she looks forward to this year’s crop of business pitches.

“I’ve probably read over 500 business plans, and there’s always something surprising,” she said. “There’s always something that’s a good idea.”

With the competition’s application opening just weeks ago, University students are already gearing up to compete in MN Cup for the chance at investments and connections with angel investors and local business leaders.

A Gentleman Scholar

For Jon Bohlinger, alcohol is more than just a drink.

When he discovered that he could microdistill his own liquor the same way as craft beer, he said he jumped at the chance to start his own business doing just that.

“I would die happy if I was going to be making alcohol the rest of my life,” he said.

The part-time MBA student is taking his microdistilled spirits company, Gentleman Scholar, to MN Cup in hopes of opening his business sometime this summer.

The “sexiness” and sophisticated character of his gin, he said, would be an advantage in the competition.

The decision to compete came naturally after taking an entrepreneurship course where he developed the idea, he said.

Regardless of the outcome, Bohlinger said, he’s going to MN Cup to establish connections in the entrepreneurial community.

“Even if you go to these things and you don’t win, the people you meet make it so worthwhile,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of competitive people, and I’m really eager to compete against them.”

Transformation Technologies 

When Grant Schluender went looking for something to put on the back of his truck to store his snow blower without making his car look like a “minivan,” he was surprised to find there was no such thing.

That’s when the MBA student decided to make the ConvertCap, a patent-pending invention that lies across a truck bed and converts from a flat lid into a truck topper.

Now he’s taking his product and his company, Transformation Technologies, to MN Cup in hopes of getting exposure, as well as feedback.

While he said Transformation Technologies may not be as complex as other companies competing in MN Cup, he still feels confident it will do well.

“The ConvertCap isn’t necessarily going to save the world; it’s not going to prevent cancer or cure heart disease,” he said. “But it’s a technology that everybody can understand and … will make an incremental difference in peoples’ lives.”

Santé Foods

According to business senior Connor McIntire, the key to a successful yogurt spread business is “a lot of sweat.”

He, business senior Kelsey Atherton and nine other Carlson students have spent the 2012-13 school year doing market research, attending sales meetings, making deliveries — even cooking batches and applying labels for their product, Santé Foods.

The duo took a family “old world” recipe and started producing it locally and selling it in cooperatives around the city.

Though Santé Foods hasn’t officially decided whether it will take its spread to MN Cup, McIntire said the University has been invaluable in the company’s development so far.

“There’s a big push by the U and Carlson School to start businesses,” he said. 

Lipbrau

Take classic games, breathe life into them and then make them mobile — that’s the goal for Lipbrau, a mobile game development company started by a trio of MBA students: Charlie Rota, Spencer Evans and Zach Johnson.

Their first development, Hogstead: Dots and Boxes, puts a farm spin on the classic dots and boxes games and will likely launch mid-May.

Lipbrau aims to feed off the recent success of mobile gaming with its unique real-time and two-player features.

“This first wave of social casual gaming … has already hit its peak,” Rota said. “But there’s still a high demand for that genre. So our hope is that we can fill that gap.”

Since the idea for the company emerged in fall 2012, the group said it relied heavily on the “collaborative community” of business people for advice and ideas.

“They’re not only excited about the idea, they’re passionate about passion,” Johnson said, “which is what binds so many entrepreneurs together.”

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