40K challenge presents an opportunity to bring business ideas to life

By Karlee Van De Venter, Arts and Features Reporter

If you’ve ever had an idea for an invention or business, you’re not alone. There are at least 60 EWU students with startup ideas.

The Center for Entrepreneurship is giving those students an opportunity to grow their ideas. The $40,000 Startup Challenge is only halfway done, and already full of fierce competition.

There are four stages to the Challenge, two of which have already passed. Stage Three will take place April 9 in the Showalter Hall Auditorium. Students outside of the Challenge can attend as audience members, with a chance to win prizes for attending.

Stage One was organized in a speeddating format, with a vast variety of judges. Each student or group of students would pitch their idea to a judge with a simple elevator pitch. There was time for questions, and then they would move on. There were 52 judges from varied professions. Judges were lawyers, a business owners, marketing specialists or something completely different.

Bruce Teague, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, spoke with The Easterner about the Startup Challenge.

Teague said he tried to set up the challenge so students wouldn’t be getting people from the same background every time. That way, their feedback came from many different perspectives.

Atsushi Inoue and Dave Gorton with their class at Mie University. The students are participating in Eagle’s Nest Business Pitch Competition and placed first in the second qualifying round | Photo contributed by Dave Gorton in 2018

The top 20 from Stage one moved on to the next.

One of the participants, senior Samual Hatfield, had a startup idea for biotechnology.

His idea has advanced all the way to preparing for Stage Three.

“The Stage One process really highlighted to me that I knew the product I was trying to sell, but really hadn’t explored the business aspects as thoroughly as I should have,” Hatfield said.

In Stage One, Hatfiield said he spent a lot of time explaining his idea in ways he hadn’t thought of before because the variety of judges.

Between stages, students were supposed to refine their ideas. They were given access to the 3D printer on campus and privileges at the EWU Maker Space, but not all participants took advantage of that.

Having visual aids and more concrete ideas would help students succeed in Stage Two.

Stage Two was a trade show format, with every team getting a booth for the display they choose. The idea was to demonstrate their idea so the judges would pay attention. The judges walked through and saw every booth, but the amount of time they spend with each team depends on how well they pitch.

The top 10 from this stage moved on to Stage Three.

“It was similar to Stage One in that you had to give the same pitch over and over, with a lot of the same questions,” Hatfield said. “But it was different in that a new judge could walk up in the middle of talking to someone else, and you had to be able to grab their attention.”

“A new judge could walk up in the middle of talking to someone else, and you had to be able to grab their attention.” -Samual Hatfield, Senior

Stage Two introduced the challenge of selling yourself as an entrepreneur. But particpants still get to dress up and talk about something they’re passionate about, which Hatfield loved.

The top 10 from Stage Two were awarded a total of $18,000 to continue their businesses.

Currently, these top 10 participants could be getting patents, creating prototypes or any number of things to make them stand out. Hatfield is using his share for product development, “to gain a proof-of-concept model to show that it actually works.”

He’s also working on the marketing content, hoping to hear back from the public about what they want.

Stage Three is like Shark Tank, except instead of Sharks in the Shark Tank, there will be Eagles in the Eagles’ Nest.

These “Eagles” then decide who deserves to be recognized and awarded the most, among them the prize money will be divided.

“Right now, we have at least $11,000 on the line just that night alone, and I think that might go up,” -Bruce Teague, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship

There is also $1,000 at stake for the winner of the “People’s Choice Award” that the audience members choose based on their favorite pitch.

Stage Three will be hosted by an improv comic from Spokane. It’s meant to be a very theatrical event.

There is also a lot of incentive for students to go as audience members. There are prizes for the first few students who come in, and tickets are distributed to every audience member that may lead to them winning “Mystery Envelopes,” with up to $100 in them.

Teague plans to make the Challenge an annual competition. In the past, it was the Eagles Nest Pitch Competition, with significantly less money at stake.

As the Center for Entrepreneurship grows, so does their funding for events like the Challenge. Teague wants students to know that any student can participate in the 40K Challenge, as well as other events hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurship.

People wander the booths listing to pitches and giving feed back in the 2014 competition.

Students don’t have to be in the business field to participate. This year, at least four of the five EWU colleges were represented. Teague wants that to continue in the coming years.

“We want everyone to get involved if they can,” Teague said. “Everything that we’re doing is based around the idea that every student at Eastern Washington University has an idea that can be great, that can change the world in some way.”•