The annual UMD Startup Cup entrepreneurship competition, held each spring, took place virtually for the first time.
Student planning team photo (from left) Ziggy Pha, Katelyn Glaser, Rachel Mummah, Bob Libal, Mikena Senarighi, Joel Martinez
After working with industry mentors to prepare for the competition, UMD students pitched their existing businesses or ideas to a panel of judges for a chance to win scholarship money.
The creative entrepreneur who won the 2021 UMD Startup Cup grand prize of $1,500 and a consultation package from Finden Marketing was John Rosas Ramirez, a UMD graphic design and marketing major. Ramirez presented his company Convivial Comics, which currently creates reading material with future plans to make games, designs, and stories through other mediums. Ramirez was mentored by Eric Faust, founder/owner of Duluth Coffee Company.
“The competition is a must-do experience for any entrepreneur looking to start their business idea. Whether you win or lose, there is plenty of insight and wisdom to be had from mentors, realizing your idea, and the presentation itself,” shared Ramirez. “My main focus as of this moment is to finish the rest of my education, setting aside the money and having it pre-assorted into my next business steps. I'm excited to use these funds to expand my dream and change lives for the better.”
The Most Innovative Idea prize of $1,000 went to Madison Brenengen and Allyson Hilgeman for Travel Bug, an app developed to connect travelers with locals for a more authentic local experience. The team was mentored by Janelle Jones, president/CEO of Lake County Chamber of Commerce.
Brenengen stated, “It was a great opportunity and practice to pitch in front of an audience and get questioned by the judges. Allyson and I did a lot of preparation including practicing with our mentors, our class, and our friends/family. We plan on using these funds to connect with a software developer and start building or app! This competition gave us some new perspectives on our idea, as well as gaining experience on how to pitch effectively.”
The Best Business Model prize of $1,000 went to Will Holz, who showcased Total Lawn, a landscaping and lawn care company Holz started himself in his hometown. Holz was mentored by Tim White, product development inventor and local entrepreneur.
“The number one takeaway from the startup cup competition was gaining multiple valuable insights and experience inputs from the mentors. I plan on using the reward funds to continue to improve my business model with the intended goal of providing a quality end-user experience,” shared Holz.
Winning the audience choice prize of $500 was Dalton Scharmer, who designed and built a special needs toy to help children develop motor skills. Scharmer was mentored by Tom Sega, president/CEO of Duluth Pack.
Scharmer stated, “I really enjoyed being able to present for a live audience. There is a lot of satisfaction and joy that goes into preparing for something you truly believe in, and then get one chance to share that with others. The presentation and sales lessons I learned from Tom will stick with me for the rest of my life. Not only did he teach me about how to sell my current product, but he gave me a blueprint for how to sell any product or idea. I will be forever grateful for his advice.”
Also bringing an idea for consideration was Zachariah Coughlin, who created a software program to help students plan their course loads. Coughlin was mentored by Chris Swanson, CEO of PureDriven.
The event, sponsored by the Labovitz School, Finden Marketing, and North Shore Federal Credit Union, was judged by Amy Ronneberg, CEO of Be The Match; Lili Hall, founder and CEO of KNOCK inc.; and Rick Lampton, Duluth restaurateur.
The competition is planned by a team of student directors. The 2021 directors were Katelyn Glaser, Bob Libal, Joel Martinez, Rachel Mummah, Ziggy Pha, and Mikena Senarighi.
Libal shared on the planning experience, "As a student director, this event was the culmination of many of the lessons we learn in the classroom. We were able to apply our understanding of budgets, project management, professional communication, and most importantly, teamwork. It was so exciting to be a part of such a great event that brought students from across UMD to hear about the entrepreneurial ideas they have."
More information on the competition and a video recording of the 2021 event can be found at umdstartupcup.com.