Tag: Entrepreneurship

Lawrence student earns funding in The Pitch competition, keeps streak alive

Adona Lauriano ’21

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Adona Lauriano ’21 made it four for four for Lawrence University students finishing in the money in The Pitch, an annual intercollegiate entrepreneurial competition.

The government major from New York took third place, winning $5,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind services toward her start-up business venture. Lawrence students have now finished in the top three in all four years of The Pitch, a Shark Tank-styled competition that pits northeast Wisconsin college students against each other as they seek funding for a business start-up idea.

The competition, held in Oshkosh with Lauriano and some other competitors accessing it remotely, was originally scheduled in the spring but was moved to October because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lauriano jumped into the competition when she returned to campus in September.

Lauriano’s business idea is called AX-ES (previously O.M. ID), a for-profit venture that would partner with municipalities in creating and distributing municipal photo identification cards for people who do not have a driver’s license. It’s all about access—or lack thereof—for people who are otherwise at a disadvantage when dealing with everything from City Hall to their neighborhood bank, she said.

AX-ES will develop a “white-label platform” to provide the software and hardware to implement and maintain a municipal ID program, Lauriano said.

“Eventually, we will control the cards’ production and distribution, but we will begin by partnering with each contracted municipality’s city ID agency,” she said. “AX-ES is seeking out contracted partnerships with city ID agencies in municipalities throughout the U.S. to ensure all individuals have access to beneficial and essential services despite socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We are a for-profit social good organization, designed to promote community inclusion, financial access, and improved relationships between residents and local government.”

There are populations in every city that live without appropriate identification. Lauriano said AX-ES aims to bridge that divide.

“The problem is that many individuals who do not hold a driver’s license—homeless constituents, young people, and immigrants—do not have official identification that is accepted by police, banks, and some parks,” she said. “It is a human rights issue since IDs confer access to every aspect of public life.”

Lauriano, coached by Irene Strohbeen ’78 and getting guidance from Gary Vaughan, Lawrence’s coordinator of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program, made her pitch to the judges virtually. She weathered technical issues but came out undeterred.

“I tried my best to stress my passion and AX-ES’ potential to provide a super high impact,” she said.

Lauriano said 13 municipalities in the United States currently have municipal IDs. She wants to provide a service to make that much more widespread, with a focus on mid-sized cities that might not have the resources of a major metropolitan area.

“Thus, the real opportunity is to take AX-ES nationwide,” Lauriano said. “We would like to make it easier for cities to implement municipal IDs. Our potential market is the 639 U.S. cities with a population of 50,000 to 200,000. … We want to cater to cities that might not have the human resources to develop their own municipal ID program without external assistance.”   

Lawrence was joined in the fourth annual competition by students from St. Norbert College, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, Fox Valley Technical College, Moraine Park Technical College, and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. In all, 10 teams or individuals made pitches to the judges. Nicolet Bank was again the premier sponsor.

2017: Lawrence hockey players take first place in inaugural event.

2018: Team of international students takes first in second year.

2019: A strong second place in third annual competition.

Lawrence is the only school to have placed in the top three in each of the four years of the competition. Vaughan praised Lauriano for her preparedness as she navigated the difficulties of a remote pitch while most of the participants were in person.

“The fact that Lawrentians have placed in The Pitch in all four years the event has been held is a tribute to the total Lawrence experience, and it is indicative of the type of dedication and the work ethic our students exhibit in and out of the classroom,” he said. “Adona did great, and we are very proud of her accomplishment.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Lawrence student entrepreneurs take top prize at $50,000 The Pitch competition for second straight year

Two for two!

For the second year in a row, a team of Lawrence University budding entrepreneurs wowed the judges to earn first-place honors in the second annual northeast Wisconsin The Pitch competition held April 11 at Fox Cities Stadium.

the winning members of team WellBell holding their first-place check
Lawrence University students (left to right) Ayomide Akinyosoye, Nikki Payne, Alfiza Urmanova and Alejandra Alarcon were all smiles after winning The Pitch competition and the first-place prize of $10,000 in cash and $15,000 in in-kind professional startup assistance. (Photo by Max Hermans)

While a trio of Lawrence hockey players won the inaugural Pitch event in 2017, it was the ladies turn to shine in the spotlight this time.

A team of four international students — Ayomide Akinyosoye, Lagos, Nigeria, Alejandra Alarcon, Quito, Ecuador, Nikki Payne, Bangkok, Thailand, and Alfiza Urmanova, Arsk, Russia — overcame a technological hiccup to win the first-place prize of $10,000 in cash and $15,000 in in-kind professional startup assistance.

Despite a computer glitch that prevented their visuals from being shown during their presentation, the four junior economics majors didn’t miss a beat in confidently touting the importance and benefits of their idea, WellBell, an innovative wristband device with an S.O.S button that can be used to send notifications for help or medical assistance. The team sees potential markets for WellBell in health areas as well for social emergencies, such as sexual assaults or shootings.

“I just knew we were going to win,” said an ebullient Alarcon.

Payne was a bit less confident, but equally happy.

Memmbers of team WellBell giving their pitch presentation
Photo by Max Hermans

“What?!? Are you serious?” Payne said was her initial reaction. “I was really surprised. There were great teams out there and we saw some great products they came up with. I thought, ‘I don’t know, I don’t think we’re going to win’ and then when they called our name it was like, ‘okay…guys we did it.’”

Urmanova is credited with conceiving the idea for WellBell this past January. She says the next step is to create a prototype.

“This prize money will help us with beta testing,” explained Urmanova. “Once we test the product, we’ll be able to launch it. For now, we need to see if the market is ready for it. This is something that hasn’t been done before, but it’s very simple and not too complicated. We have a plan on how we want to manufacture it, so within two, three years, it’s possible it will be on the market.”

Modeled after the television show “Shark Tank,” The Pitch featured 10 teams of student entrepreneurs presenting their business idea to a panel of judges and a room full of business leaders and mentors. Each presenter is given five minutes to pitch their product or idea and then answer questions from the judges.

The competition featured two teams each from St. Norbert and Ripon colleges, UW-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh as well as Lawrence, the only competing institution without a business program.

“I was really proud of the young ladies. Their power point didn’t work and yet they gave one heck of a presentation,” said Gary Vaughan, coordinator of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program at Lawrence University. “Women and entrepreneurship go together. There’s no reason why we can’t have more women pitching at events like this. For Lawrence to do this two years in a row against the quality of the other schools we have, it’s awesome.”

“It’s not just the (innovation and entrepreneurship) program, but the whole university and how we prepare our young people, how they present themselves, the confidence they show on stage.”
— Gary Vaughan

Vaughan says Lawrence’s success in the first two Pitch events transcends just the university’s innovation and entrepreneurship program.

“It’s not just the program, but the whole university and how we prepare our young people, how they present themselves, the confidence they show on stage,” said Vaughan.

“It’s the liberal arts foundation they have that we’re building from. The I & E program kind of complements all the other majors on campus. That’s one of our competitive advantages. We’re fining-tuning all the other majors in the way we’re teaching our students how to think entrepreneurially. That entrepreneurial mindset adds value to all of the majors at Lawrence.”

As for the prospects of WellBell, Vaughan thinks it has a future.

“It’s simple and it’s a contemporary solution to some of our challenges in society today,” said Vaughan. “With the prize money they have and the in-kind support, they’ll be able to do a prototype that will work. What we’re talking about with WellBell is your loved one’s security.”

Akinyosoye says Lawrence’s second straight winning Pitch speaks volumes about the importance of having innovative minds.

“It pushes you beyond the boundaries of the classroom and pushes your mind to explore things you didn’t think were possible,” said Akinyosoye. “Coming up with this (WellBell) was just a conversation in a room a few months ago and today it’s possible that it’s going to be a product in the future. The sky is just the beginning.”

“The future is female,” Alarcon added proudly, “and the future is now.”

Brian Minorer making his pitch presentation
Lawrence junior Brian Mironer made a presentation for “Guido,” his innovative way to teach music using a specialized glove and novel curriculum. Photo by Max Hermans

Brian Mironer, a junior from Edina, Minn., who won the on-campus LaunchLU pitch competition April 7, also represented Lawrence at The Pitch. During his presentation on “Guido,” his innovative way to teach music using a specialized glove and novel curriculum, Mironer had the judging panel singing “Do-Ra-Mi.”

Dayne Rusch from UW-Oshkosh was awarded $17,000 in cash and in-kind support as the second-place finisher for “Pyxsee,” an app that allows parents to monitor or limit their children’s time on social media. Sam Hunt of UW-Green Bay was award third place and $10,000 in cash and in-kind support for PrecisionLAG, a device attached to the grip end of a golf club to help the golfer make proper contact with the ball.

The Pitch competition features the best entrepreneurial ideas from college students in northeast Wisconsin, each of whom qualified through preliminary on-campus pitch competitions at their respective institutions.

The winners were chosen by a panel of five judges representing Nicolet Bank, Gulfsteam Aerospace, gener8tor, a startup accelerator, Baker Tilly Virchow Krause and Winnebago Seed Fund.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

The Pitch: Lawrence student entrepreneurs competing in $40,000 contest

Four Lawrence University budding entrepreneurs will present their ideas for “the next great thing” Wednesday, May 3 at Timber Rattlers Fox Cities Stadium in front of a panel of judges and an audience of northeast Wisconsin business leaders.

Head shot of George Mavrakis
George Mavrakis ’19

Sophomore George Mavrakis and seniors Mattias Soederqvist, Felix Henriksson and Ryan Eardley will compete for a total prize package worth $40,000 in cash and professional start-up services against students from St. Norbert College, UW-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh in the first edition of The Pitch.

The Lawrence students advanced to The Pitch — think “Shark Tank” for college students — after sharing first-place honors in Lawrence’s recent fourth annual LaunchLU competition.

Gary Vaughan, coordinator of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program at Lawrence and lecturer of economics, said the idea behind The Pitch is to enhance entrepreneurial education and help retain young talent to the Fox Valley and northeast Wisconsin.

“We have bright entrepreneurial students graduating from our local universities and going to Chicago, Minneapolis, New York,” said Vaughan. “We want to identify who they are on our campuses, showcase them at events like The Pitch and invite our CEOs of area corporations to come to support them and talk with them.”

Photo of George Mavrakis delivering a presentation on his product C-Star
George Mavrakis explains his aquarium sand-cleaning product C-Star at the 2017 LaunchLU competition.

“We’ve got lots of talent here. We just have to find ways to communicate to them that they have a future here,” Vaughan added. “We want to provide a forum to showcase our young talent in front of our local COEs and find other ways for corporate leaders to identify our talented students.”

Mavrakis, who started his own business in sixth grade and won the 2016 LaunchLU contest, will present C-Star, a commercial product designed to eliminate one of the least favorite jobs of owning a fish tank: clean the sand in salt water aquariums.

The starfish-shaped device stirs up sediment in the sand, providing food for coral while allowing the excess to be flushed through the filter system. The device can be programmed to operate at night while you’re sleeping so the tank is always clear when you’re awake. Mavrakis is working on a solar-powered prototype that would work off the aquarium’s own light.

Soederqvist, Henriksson and Eardley, teammates on the Lawrence hockey team, will compete as team FA Analytics. They will pitch Tracr, a software application they developed for forensic asset analysis. The software automates the task of tracing assets acquired through fraudulent activities.

The application was inspired by an internship Eardley had last summer at Deloitte, a national company that provides auditing, consulting, financial advisory, risk management, tax and related services.

head shot of Mattias Soederqvist
Mattias Soederqvist ’17

Head shot of Felix Henriksson
Felix Henriksson ’17

head shot of Ryan Eardley
Ryan Eardley ’17

“By using an algorithm, they have been able to take the function of tracking fraudulent assets from a 20-hours-by-hand process down to a two-hour computer process,” explained Vaughan. “When you fraudulently obtain money, you’re likely buying stuff with it and you have these assets. From a forensic view, the software tracks down through bank statement and credit card statements and identifies the fraudulent purchases.”

According to Vaughan, proof of concept for Tracr has passed a few people at Deloitte, who said they were on to something and would pay for it if they can operate it.

“I feel like they have a decent chance of working this all the way through,” said Vaughan.

Photo of Mattias Soederqvist, Felix Henriksson and Ryan Eardley making a presentation at the LaunchLU contest.
Team FA Analystics — Mattias Soederqvist, Felix Henriksson and Ryan Eardley (l. to r.) — discuss their software application Tracr at the 2017 LaunchLU contest.

The winner of The Pitch will receive $10,000 in cash and $15,000 in professional services (web design/development, product prototyping, marketing, legal advice, accounting support), while the second-place finisher will receive $5,000 in cash and $10,000 in technical services.

Without making any predictions, Vaughan is confident Lawrence’s “pitchers” will represent the university well.

“Our students, with our speaking-intensive courses we have, will pitch well, they will present themselves professionally in my opinion,” said Vaughan. “I think we have a good chance. I think we can do it.”

Serving as judges for the first Pitch competition will be:

• Maggie Brickerman, gener8tor. Managing director for gener8tor’s gBETA program, a free accelerator for early stage companies with ties to Wisconsin colleges or universities.

 • Mike Daniels, Nicolet National Bank. President and CEO who co-founded Nicolet National Bank in 2000community lender.

• Craig Dickman, Breakthrough Fuel. Founder, CEO and chief innovation officer for Breakthrough Fuel, which specializes in supply chain logistics and fuel cost management.

• Greg Lynch, Michael Best. A partner with the national law firm Michael Best. Lynch advises companies on financing strategies and mergers & acquisitions. He is co-founder of the firm’s Venture Best emerging company practice.

• Neil Mix, Quadrant. A silicon-valley style technologist, product developer and entrepreneur. A veteran of several venture capital funded startups, Mix co-founded a Microsoft acquisition and helped build Internet radio service Pandora from the ground up.

• Zack Pawlosky, Candeo Creative, owner of the nationally recognized entrepreneurial marketing agency based in Oshkosh. He also is the founder of a software development company and a partner in a venture capital firm.

• David Trotter, Winnebago Seed Fund, managing director of Winnebago Capital Partners, the general partner of the Winnebago Seed Fund, a newly formed venture capital fund in Neenah. The fund focuses on seed investments in startup companies in the Fox Valley.

The Pitch is organized by The Fox Connection, a collaboration of academic institutions in northeast Wisconsin to enhance entrepreneurial education and opportunity for area students.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.



Trailblazer: App leads Lawrence students to finals of national entrepreneurship competition

If Joe Bazydlo has his way, visitors trekking through any of the U.S. National Parks one day soon will have instant access to fascinating information about the park at their fingertips.

Joe Bazydlo ’16

Thanks to a smartphone app he helped develop — “Trailblazer” — hikers and other trail users will be able to magically add entries to their digital field journal via GPS technology. Each GPS point, or Trailblazer Beacon, once hiked through will unlock preloaded information about the hiker’s immediate environment provided by the people that know the most, the park’s rangers.

“It’s sort of a scavenger hunt,” said Bazydlo, who has spent time as an interpretive ranger at Hawaii’s Haleakala National Park.

Hikers will find themselves on a park-wide scavenger hunt to pass through all Trailblazer Beacons in the park trails and complete all entries in their field journals.

“The whole app works via GPS technology rather than using cell service, so it will work in even the most remote locations.”

The app is designed to be interactive.

“People could also create their own entries. A botanist, for instance, could go to a park, find a colony of a certain plant, save the GPS point on their phone, write a description about it that could be sent to park officials who then could approve or decline the entry,” Bazydlo explained. “Essentially, we want to use Trailblazer to crowd-source every park in the nation. We want to provide a platform for everyone to contribute their unique perspective on the parks.”

With help from Eddie Elizondo and Alex Shabazi, Bazydlo developed “Trailblazer” in Lawrence University’s “In Pursuit of Innovation” course last fall and took the idea all the way to the finals of the 2015 Tiger Launch Competition at Princeton University.

Bazydlo and Elizondo were among 20 finalists from an original pool of more than 250 teams from around the country that submitted 90-second video pitches for the first round of the competition when it began last November.

Bazydlo delivered the team’s four-minute presentation in front of three venture capitalists who served as the competition’s judges. The annual competition is sponsored by Princeton’s Entrepreneurship Club.

Lawrence was one of the only liberal arts college invited to the finals, which included teams from Princeton, Duke, Cal Tech, Clemson and Johns Hopkins universities, among others.

“It was an unbelievable experience…it certainly proved Lawrence students can run with the best of the them.”
— Joe Bazydlo

“I was a kind of shocked, but we certainly were honored to make it that far,” said Bayzdlo, a junior anthropology and Chinese major from Rocky River, Ohio. “There were some student presenters who were completing their MBAs and some who were working full time on their projects.”

The first- and second-place presenters as determined by the judges received funding awards of $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. Although he didn’t get any financial support for Trailblazer, Bazydlo felt the opportunity was priceless.

“It was an unbelievable experience, a great learning experience,” said Bazydlo, who was still tweaking the presentation on the train ride from Newark’s Liberty International Airport to Princeton. “It certainly proved Lawrence students can run with the best of the them. Without a business school, we had to learn everything from the ground up to even go into the project while still being full-time students.”

Adam Galambos, associate professor of economics and one of the drivers behind Lawrence’s innovation and entrepreneurship program, expressed pride in the Trailblazer team’s success.

“Joe and Eddie combined their expertise and worked very hard to pursue an idea they are both passionate about and we’re certainly proud of their success in this year’s Tiger Launch competition,” said Galambos. “I hope their success inspires others to pursue their own innovative and entrepreneurial ideas, whether they are in the realm of social enterprise, commercial ventures or innovation in any field. Our I&E program is here to support those initiatives through relevant courses and events such as LaunchLU, as well as the new I&E club coming this fall.”

The journey from Briggs Hall to the Princeton campus was a major triumph in itself considering the challenges the team encountered along the way, starting with the initial 90-second video pitch.

Joe Bazydlo hopes his phone app will enhance users visits to the country’s national parks by providing additional information about their immediate environment.

“We shot it at three in the morning the day we were leaving for the end-of-term holiday break,” recalled Bazydlo. “It was not good.”

So “take two” was shot in Bazydlo’s living room back home in Ohio.

“I just propped up my iPad on the fireplace mantle and starting giving our pitch. It was a very awkward video, but we submitted it thinking it’s all about the idea, not the quality of the video.”

The team lived in limbo for nearly three months before finding out on Valentine’s Day weekend they had made the second round.

“Suddenly we realized we were running with the big dogs. We had made the semifinals,” said Bazydlo.

To earn a ticket to Princeton, the team had to survive a Skype interview, conducted by a business school professor from UC-Berkeley. With Elizondo in Chicago on an off-campus study program for the term, that required a three-way conversation.

“That went terrible,” Bazydlo said bluntly. “It was just a slaughterhouse. He was ripping apart every aspect of our plan.”

Despite their own poor self-assessment of the interview, to their complete surprise two weeks later they learned they made the top 20 and should start packing for a paid trip to Princeton.

“We were probably the most unusual team there, a combination of a computer science major and an anthropology major, neither with any business background,” said Bazydlo. “We had no idea we’d make it to be among the top 20.”

As for the next step for Trailblazer, Bazydlo says some additional tweaking is in the works.

“Right now we are still trying to perfect the app so that we can create a positive and impactful change in the way young people interact with our national parks. It will take a lot of outside learning, but we are so grateful to have the support of everyone at Lawrence and we are excited to see where Trailblazer will take us.”

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

$23,000 Grant Boosts Lawrence University Program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship

A $23,000 grant will support Lawrence University’s growing innovation and entrepreneurship program, a university-wide initiative launched in 2008 that engages students, faculty and alumni.

The two-year grant from the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance will target the program’s flagship course “In Pursuit of Innovation.”  Cross-taught through Lawrence’s economics and physics departments, the course incorporates the use of guest experts from various fields, intertwines innovation with entrepreneurship and employs a project-driven, hands-on component designed to develop a learning community eager to pursue innovative and entrepreneurial ventures.

Since its launch, 41 students have taken the “Innovation” course.  Operating in three-person teams and in conjunction with the FabLab, a prototyping facility at Fox Valley Technical College, students have worked on projects ranging from the development of a multi-directional split-field camera and an ergonomic student desk to a hand sanitizing system for hospitals and schools and a personal identification system that allows health records to be retrieved automatically in the event of an accident.

“From its inception, our course has focused on diverse teams creating innovative products or processes, leading to functioning prototypes,” said Adam Galambos, assistant professor of economics and one of the program’s originators, along with John Brandenberger, professor emeritus of physics and Marty Finkler, professor of economics.  “This grant will enable us to take the Innovation course to a whole new level with student ‘E-teams,’ which will translate ideas into new products or services that benefit society.

“With its long-standing commitment to the liberal arts and sciences, Lawrence is the ideal setting for a program that inspires students and faculty to create innovative new ventures that combine ideas from diverse backgrounds, fields and perspectives,” Galambos added.

The “Innovation” course is designed to prepare Lawrence students to become major contributors to a globally competitive American economy through an immersion in innovation and entrepreneurship.  Students in the course develop their own innovative ideas to lay the groundwork for entrepreneurial ventures, examine how innovation and entrepreneurship invigorate businesses and industries and their roles in creating new ones, study the innovation and entrepreneurship literature and interact with active, successful innovators and entrepreneurs.

“Our students learn to connect theory with the real-world experiences described by our visiting experts and to apply this learning to their own projects,” said Brandenberger.

The impetus for Lawrence’s “In Pursuit of Innovation” course was a highly-influential national publication entitled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” and a bipartisan piece of legislation leading to the 2007 America Competes Act, both of which warned of slippage in American competitiveness worldwide. The studies pointed toward increased emphasis on innovative and entrepreneurial effectiveness, especially in scientific, technological and engineering pursuits, as one solution to reverse the trend.

In addition to “In Pursuit of Innovation,” courses such as “Entrepreneurship and
Financial Markets ” and “Entrepreneurship in the Arts and Society” also are part of the effort to build an innovation and entrepreneurship program at Lawrence.

Based in Massachusetts, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance supports technology innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education to create experiential learning opportunities for students and socially beneficial businesses.