EAU CLAIRE—UW-Green Bay student Sydney Gang won the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament, presented by WiSys, on April 23. Gang took first place and a $2,500 prize in the statewide student entrepreneurship competition held in downtown Eau Claire at coworking space CoLab.
Gang’s pitch “Skip the Warm-Up” was for an improvement to knee sleeves, which are often worn by weightlifters and athletes to provide support to joints.
Gang’s approach allows athletes to add heat to the knee sleeves to help prevent injuries, reduce pain and maximize performance. The business administration student came up with the idea for the product while trying to return to weightlifting after a knee injury.
UW-Milwaukee marketing student Amanda Rahfaldt earned second place and a $1,500 prize in the tournament. Rahfaldt presented “All About Workout”—a second hand athletic apparel business focused on sustainability and affordability.
UW Oshkosh business management student Kyle Jessen won third place and a $750 prize in the competition. Jessen’s “Gerbil Leads” idea is for a subscription platform that provides contractors, such as landscapers and window cleaners, with relevant business leads for their services.
In addition to presenting their business ideas, the participating students had the opportunity to network with business leaders and hear from a panel of Wisconsin entrepreneurs about the challenges they faced on their journeys to launch a company.
Overall, six teams including nine students, presented at the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament.
To land a spot at the statewide competition, the students from University of Wisconsin schools competed in a local qualifying competition or through an at-large round.
The competition was established to extend the Wisconsin entrepreneurial ecosystem to University of Wisconsin students with the goal to help students think critically about their business ideas and implement lean business methodologies. Through the months leading up to this statewide competition, students received support from campus and statewide entrepreneurship experts.
“Accelerating the creation of an innovation workforce in Wisconsin is critical for our communities. The Big Idea Tournament provides a platform for the talented students in the University of Wisconsin to develop and showcase their entrepreneurial skills,” said WiSys President Arjun Sanga. “Congratulations to all the excellent students and a special thanks to their families for coming out to support them.”
The judges for the event were:
- Elaine Coughlin, Director of Investments and Entrepreneurship, Pablo Group
- Doug Rhoten, Co-founder, Cereus
- Jim Ward, President and Founder, Elite EXTRA
In addition to being a sponsor and host for the tournament, CoLab is also homebase for another WiSys program that supports entrepreneurs. Working with partners UW-Eau Claire and CoLab, WiSys launched the startup hub WiSys VentureHome®-Eau Claire in February 2020. A second startup hub was launched in downtown Green Bay in 2021.
The WiSys VentureHome® offers local entrepreneurs “everything your startup needs under one roof™,” including concierge service, resources and a supportive mentoring program. WiSys plans to build a WiSys VentureHome® in each of the communities with a regional UW System institution.
WiSys is a nonprofit organization that works with faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the UW System to facilitate cutting-edge research programs, develop and commercialize discoveries and foster a spirit of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking across the state.
Release by Craig Sauer
WiSys | Marketing & Communications Associate