Ideadvance, an organization that provides seed fund grants to applicants within the UW System, has awarded two UW–Platteville student teams with up to $25,000 for their startup business enterprises.
Matt Aguilar and his YourBook team was the only undergraduate recipient in Wisconsin for the February cohort; and Zen Abbey, Alex Arndorfer and their MillBot team received conditional approval for the June cohort.
Both teams utilized the Pioneer Launch Lab and entrepreneurship program to launch their business models and successfully apply for the grant money. Members of the Pioneer Launch Lab have now received four Ideadvance grants of the nine total undergraduate grants awarded, twice as many as any other UW System campus.
Aguilar, a business administration major with a marketing emphasis from Chicago, began his project in early 2014 when he designed the prototype for YourBook, a website that allows high schools to publish a yearbook online with everything of a traditional yearbook, but with videos, a social element and more pictures. He now holds five patents for an online digital yearbook.
Arndorfer and Abbey, mechanical engineering majors from Stewartville, Minn., and Chicago, respectively, spent the majority of 2014 working on their project design and business model in order to apply for the grant.
“In business, you are going to find your customers, or the lack thereof, in one of two ways,” said Brock Waterman, coordinator at the Pioneer Launch Lab. “You’ll either find them before you spend a lot of effort and money, or after. With the business model canvas, we are looking for a scalable and repeatable business model that puts emphasis on knowing who your customers are before you do anything else.”
Waterman, who runs his own business-consulting firm, works with any student or faculty member on campus who has an idea for a business or product. The Pioneer Launch Lab serves as a resource to give potential entrepreneurs the business assistance they need to move their business or product beyond the brainstorming stage.
“Alex Arndorfer and I are both engineering students and had little experience in the business field,” said Abbey. “The Pioneer Launch Lab helped us through every step.”
Abbey and Arndorfer are now in the interview stage of their business model where they test the assumptions of their business model canvas by interviewing potential customers. All three students meet weekly with Ideadvance to share their progress and receive feedback. They also undergo online business courses, recommended by Ideadvance.
Abbey and Arndorfer will participate in the Big Idea Tournament, as a stipulation for receiving the grant money.
Aguilar has completed several customer interviews and is now engaged in zoning in on the specifics of his product and developing a sellable prototype.
“I always wanted the chance to run something on my own,” said Aguilar. “I want the chance to achieve great things and to be a role model for people. This idea couldn’t have happened without Brock Waterman, the Launch Lab, and the entrepreneurship program.”
“The students I work with are amazing,” said Waterman. “They put a lot of work into their projects, and I’m proud of them.”
The Ideadvance Seed Fund Grant is open to any UW System member, including students, faculty and staff, with the exception of UW–Madison.
“It’s not all about just creating a product anymore,” said Abbey. “It’s about taking engineering skills, customer skills and people skills, and bringing them all together.”