i3 Idea Challenge kicks-off for another year

RAINER KOCSIS

Last year’s i3 Idea Challenge awarded Onatha Studios with the first place prize of $15,000 to start up their company.

Last year’s i3 Idea Challenge awarded Onatha Studios with the first place prize of $15,000 to start up their company.

Aspiring entrepreneurs at the University of Saskatchewan will have a chance to win $30,000 through this year’s i3 Idea Challenge.

The Wilson Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence and sponsor KPMG Enterprises host the i3 Idea Challenge, which aims to promote innovation and entrepreneurship and gives entrepreneurially-minded students the opportunity to develop their business ideas in a competitive environment. The competition is open to entrepreneurs ranging from beginners to professionals from any industry but teams must have at least one member currently enrolled as a U of S student.

“There are so many incredible ideas coming from students at the university and we want to give them the resources and support to take their ideas to the next level,” said Stephanie Yong, director at the Wilson Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

“We continue to encourage people with tech and non-tech focused ventures to apply.”

The i3 Idea Challenge takes place from January to May and officially began with a speed networking kickoff event on Jan. 29 at The Bassment, where prospective competitors got a chance to connect with potential business partners as well as financiers and mentors.

Participants are asked to submit a three-minute-long video pitch and a three-page business plan summary to the Wilson Centre by May 1. The ideas are then vetted by a panel of judges. This year’s top three winners will receive cash prizes of $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000.

The finalists will also be awarded over $75,000 in professional services and in-kind support to get their businesses up and running. These start-up services include mentorship, strategic planning sessions, legal and accounting assistance, office space, printing, graphic design and web design.

Business planning workshops will be held leading up to the submission deadline to help all participants create strong foundations for their ventures. The registration deadline is March 20, after the four workshops have been held.

Eric Tetland, a third-year physics major and participant in this year’s challenge, said he decided to compete for the experience and isn’t necessarily looking to win.

“I’m doing an entrepreneurship minor because I like the idea of starting something on your own and having it turn into a big business. I think it’s a good way to make change in the world,” Tetland said.

Although this is Tetland’s first i3 Idea Challenge, he is no stranger to the world of self-starters. Tetland currently sits on the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce’s future opportunities committee, an organization that focuses on helping Saskatoon entrepreneurs. He was also instrumental in the creation of Peachy Printer, a Saskatoon-based project to develop an affordable 3D printer.

Over the past five years the i3 Idea Challenge has helped create 20 new business ventures and has awarded over $300,000 in cash and start-up services to outstanding teams of student entrepreneurs. In 2013, the competition saw 48 entries representing all colleges across campus.

Last year’s top prize went to Dalton Mainil, Thomas Bazin and Tyler Spink of Onatha Studios, who designed a system that integrates video games into the airway clearance therapy for children with cystic fibrosis. All three partners are completing dual degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. Onatha Studios started as the group’s senior design project in an electrical engineering class.

“We entered with no expectation of winning,” Mainil said. “We just hoped that the guidance provided throughout the process would be valuable to our business moving forward. The experience was incredible, and the positive feedback and advice we received from those involved really helped to fuel our aspirations to continue developing our business.”

Mainil said the group’s win was a pleasant surprised that helped them define the course of their product.

“Even considering the $15,000 cash prize — which is certainly a wonderful boost — the greatest thing we took away from the i3 challenge was the resources provided by the Wilson Centre and the connections to people willing to supplement our business knowledge. The experience was extraordinary and we had a great time participating,” Mainil said.

Other past competitors include 3twenty Solutions, a company that converts old shipping containers into modular work-force housing; Neechie Gear, a clothing company that supports the development of Aboriginal youth-based sports teams; and Farm at Hand, a cloud-based farm management program.


Photo: Supplied