Innovation challenge prepares students to become entrepreneurs

  • The fourth annual Koch Innovation Challenge gets under way Friday, Dec. 6, at Wichita State.
  • The competition helps prepare students to be world-ready graduates with an entrepreneurial mindset.
  • The last winner of the competition, team Under Pressure, is now in the process of patenting their product, a liquid-measuring tool for the visually impaired.

The fourth annual Koch Innovation Challenge, sponsored by Koch Industries and held at Wichita State, will take place from 9 a.m.-noon on Friday, Dec. 6, in 107 Devlin Hall. Teams compiled from the Introduction to Technology & Innovation Freshman seminar course compete for funding to pursue their big idea venture.

The competition serves as a way for students studying engineering, art, design and business to build teamwork and entrepreneurship skills while creating a feasible and profitable prototype. The goal is to immediately begin preparing students the moment they join WSU to become real world-ready graduates with an entrepreneurial mindset. This year, nearly 30 multidisciplinary teams of WSU first-year students will deliver their Big Idea two-minute pitch to a panel of industry judges.

Out of the 30 teams, five Angel Competition Team winners are selected in the fall to advance in the spring. The Grand Champion competition is set for Friday, May 8, 2020. From that, one team is selected to advance to a national elevator pitch competition in Chicago.

Since beginning in fall 2016, there have been 436 WSU students participate, with all six colleges being represented. Many students from winning teams go on to be involved in the University Innovation Fellows program with Gary Brooking, chair of the Department of Engineering.

During last year’s competition, students Edie Reese, Cierra O’Neill and Jedidiah Borchard from team Under Pressure qualified for the national competition and earned an expenses-paid trip to compete in the 2019 CEO Global Conference and Pitch Competition in Tampa, Florida.

Demonstration of the Under Pressure liquid measurement device

The team’s invention is a liquid-measuring tool for the visually impaired to safely measure hot liquids instead of using their fingers. This mechanical device uses magnets to alert users when fluid levels reach the top by clipping onto the side of a cup or cooking pot.

They got the idea after having lunch one day with visually impaired friend. They observed her getting hot water for tea, but she couldn’t use her finger because it was too hot, so they wanted to find a way to help her.

Before the CEO Global Pitch, the students consulted with Envision, a local non-profit organization that assists the blind and visually impaired. They then adjusted their prototype based on customer feedback that improved functionality.

The team’s run in the Global Pitch Competition ended in the finals with them placing 6th -- a significant milestone for WSU’s program and another achievement in the books for Team Under Pressure.

“It felt surreal,” Reese says. “Our team was excited to go, but we were in total shock that we had made it that far to begin with. We are super proud of ourselves and what we accomplished in such a short amount of time”

The next step for the team is to finalize their patent.

Reese says taking part in the Koch Innovation Challenge is one of her fondest memories from the past year.

“Students should participate because it applies various life skills in one competition,” she says. “It involves public speaking, team work, hands-on skills and communication. Also, it is a great way to meet people on campus. My team and I are super close outside of the competition.”

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