Iowa Innovation Challenge offers $225,000 in prize money to entrepreneurial projects

Four UI organizations have come together to create the Iowa Innovation Challenge, a new contest with $225,000 in funding for innovation and entrepreneurial projects.


Roman Slabach

The Old Capital from the roof of UIHC in Iowa City, Iowa on March 25, 2019.

Rin Swann, News Reporter

The University of Iowa recently launched the Iowa Innovation Challenge, a contest aimed at providing support and funding to different start-ups, ideas, and entrepreneurial projects on campus — no matter where an applicant is in their degree or professional career.

The Iowa Innovation Challenge is a school-wide contest and open to all UI affiliates, from undergraduate students to faculty. The initiative offers contestants a total of $225,000 in prize money.

The four organizations partnering in the project will fund the contest: John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, UI Ventures, the UI Research Foundation, and the Office of the Vice President for Research. Certain teams may be eligible for additional funding through a National Science Foundation grant.

The contest will be held in two phases between the fall and spring. The fall session is styled as an “elevator pitch” where contestants will have two minutes to pitch their ideas followed by five minutes of questions, John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center Director Lynn Allendorf wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Senior Associate Vice President for Research and Economic Development in the UI Office of the Vice President for Research Richard Hichwa discussed his hope for the project and how to move forward in an email to the DI.

“The Iowa Innovation Challenge provides a positive incentive for our faculty and students to translate their ideas and inventions from concept to reality, from the lab to the marketplace,” Hichwa said. “The Challenge not only showcases entrepreneurs at Iowa, it also brings UI innovations to industry, the home, and beyond.”

The two phases of the contest have been divided into two entry sections — one for undergraduate students and another for graduate students, incubator startups, and UI faculty or staff. The contest will take place on Nov. 18 for all applicants, except for undergraduate students who will compete Nov. 19 and Nov. 20, said Kristen Tobert, a communications specialist in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.

“The main goal here was to bring together everyone across campus because innovation isn’t just something that is for students or for faculty or for individuals in business or engineering,” Tobert said. “We’ve really seen how an individual from any field of study or department can bring a great idea to the table and really advance it.”

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Undergraduates will be awarded $25,000, and other winners will receive $50,000, according to the contest’s website. The money will be divided into different sub-categories with varying amounts based on placement.

“With any pitch, the hope is that there is passion behind the idea and someone that is just looking to really bring their idea to the next level,” Tobert said. “Another really important thing to bring up in your pitch is how you would use the funding … A lot of people walk up the elevator pitch with just an idea, but it is really having the knowledge and the answers to what you need to do next.”

The second phase of the contest is a business model competition held in spring 2020, with $150,000 in funding. While Tobert stated that the spring contest would ideally help advance applicants who entered in the fall, a spring applicant does not have to be a previous contestant.

“I think it’s a good idea to try to really get kids to really get into the entrepreneurship industry and try to really make an idea come true for them,” said UI freshman Peyton Williams, a business major. “And with an award like that, it will make people try really hard to find something that could actually become a product or business.”