In this tech-saturated society of iPhones and TiVo, the latest technology is the hottest commodity. That’s why students at Texas A&M University are focusing on innovation through the annual Ideas Challenge event, hosted by the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) at Mays Business School.

The competition, held April 30, gave students the chance to present their ideas for new products and services to successful members of the business and academic world. The 2008 competition, open to all Aggie students ranging from freshman to doctoral level, began with an essay requiring participants to describe their “big idea.” Out of more than 400 student entries, 40 finalist individuals and teams were chosen to present their ideas to a panel of judges that included lawyers, consultants, and executives from across the state. After a five-minute presentation by the would-be entrepreneurs, the judges challenged participants to think on their feet through a tough question and answer session. Judges quizzed the students on the marketability and feasibility of each proposal, providing friendly, constructive feedback to the students.

Student giving presentation as student watches
40 finalist individuals and teams were chosen to present their ideas to a panel of judges that included lawyers, consultants, and executives from across the state.

“We’ve been there, and we know it takes a lot of guts for students to participate in a competition like this,” said event judge Karen Hornbeck, consultant for Heritage Bridge, an IT service provider for a wide range of companies from Fortune 1000 firms to small start-ups. Hornbeck and her husband Ash were winners at the first Ideas Challenge seven years ago. “It’s an honor to be welcomed back to A&M to help with the challenge,” she said.

For the students, the challenge provided a chance to better their research and presentation skills while developing the mindset of an entrepreneur and finding their products’ fit in the market. “I’ve never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but given the right supplies and a little time, now I know that I can create a successful product—it could be the next big thing,” said participant Allison Watson, a freshman business major.

Lenae Huebner, assistant director of the CNVE, explained that the Ideas Challenge is a great resume builder and networking opportunity for the student participants. “The competition requires each team to develop an idea, categorize, and structure it, which can be very challenging,” she added. “Above all, the challenge encourages students to think innovatively and use their imagination. It’s really an invaluable experience.”

The top 10 teams split a total of $13,000, and the top two winners were also granted pro-bono provisional patent work with patent experts at Texas law firm Jackson Walker LLP. Ideas Challenge is underwritten by Lynntech, Inc., a technology company headquartered in College Station. The Research Valley Innovation Center was also a major sponsor of this year’s challenge. First prize was sponsored by Paragon Innovations; second prize was sponsored by Gulfstream Graphics; and third place was sponsored by Lockard & White, Monika Matthews-Stevens and Lynntech.

Ideas Challenge 2008 winners

1st place
Idea: InFoRMS (interactive FM radio messaging system)
Presented by: Chris Magnussen, Jamie Dixon, Jason McConnell, and Ryan Schroeder

2nd place
Idea: The Car Compass
Presented by: Dylan Dacy

3rd place (eight awarded)
Idea: Classic Comfort
Presented by: Bradley Sanders, Bradley Woodard, Taiwo Adebiyi, and Will Koonce

Idea: Aggie Aware
Presented by: Anna Gorski, Blake Cannon, Britton Clay, Casey Branach, Hannah DeGray, and Melissa Kelso

Idea: Peertutor.com
Presented by: Dustin Weghorst and Ryan Williams

Idea: Pet Protect by Bonnie Engineering
Presented by: Kyle Schumann, Michel Ramirez, and Paul Carrington

Idea: Digital Scaling Ruler
Presented by: Jenny Casmus and Michael Kim

Idea: MusicCrawler
Presented by: Cody Sanderson

Idea: Obesity Solutions Inc.
Presented by: Saurabh Biswas and Waqar Mohiuddin

Idea: Game Face
Presented by: Chris Lammert