WarriorsInnovative Challenge returns to campus

Sydney Mohr, Features Editor

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The WarriorsInnovate challenge is in its third and biggest year at Winona State University, with 22 different teams competing for the $10,000 grand prize and a chance for their project to take off.

The WarriorsInnovate challenge, according to their Winona State page, aims to “provide students an environment to grow their idea supported by businesses and mentors, provide an opportunity for student groups to form and create innovate solutions, and provide alumni with mentorship opportunities.”

The money is donated by an anonymous donor each year, and last year Ron Dempsey, vice president of university advancement, added an extra $5,000 to motivate students.

This competition is open to all Winona State students, regardless of major. Ideas can range from a business idea, a social change, technology improvement or a curriculum improvement. In the past, ideas such as building curriculum of a school of students in Kenya, prototype ideas such as a zipline from Sugarloaf to the lake and even the newest Winona State addition: the board rack outside of academic buildings, which was the winning product of the 2018 Warrior Innovate challenge.

Jennifer Hoffman, WSU Foundation Coordinator, takes pride in this event.

Walking across campus I hear students say all the time, ‘If only I could get investment for this.’ This is your opportunity. This is it,” Hoffman said.

The idea was brought to Winona State three years ago by the Foundation Trustees, who wanted to bring an innovation challenge to campus after seeing entrepreneurial programs and mentorships at other universities, such as St. Mary’s University.

Because Hoffman is leaving to take another job, the baton is being passed to dean Hamid Akbari of the college of business, who Hoffman said she is hoping will bring more attention to it as time goes on.

“I’m grateful for the college of business for taking over this project, but I would really like to see this become its own entity in the center of campus. I envision it being the center spoke of the wheel so that every discipline can be pulled in, because most of the disciplines that participate are social work, art, marketing, and I want it to be open for all,” Hoffman said.

The WarriorsInnovate challenge is composed of multiple events over the course of spring semester for the teams participating, which includes a workshop on how to talk to customers and how to build a “deck pitch”, or a short pitch given to an audience.

Reed Johnson, a marketing major and professional selling minor  and assistant to Hoffman, discussed how empowering the Warrior Innovate challenge can be to the student body.

Students were able to work with mentors and designers through the challenge to see their ideas come to reality. The challenge uses the Garage Cowork space as the main setting for their workshops and events, as it shows students a real working environment with nice meetings rooms and a professional atmosphere.

The final pitches will be given on Thursday, April 11 at 5 p.m. in Stark Auditorium. Free food will be provided, and students will be able to help cast their vote for the “People’s Choice” award to one of the 22 teams competing this semester.