Bright ideas are brewing for students in business pitching rivalry

By Jaiden Schueller, communication intern in the Office of University Relations

A Shark Tank-style pitch competition on the Marquette campus overflowed with entrepreneurial spirit last month as students shared their creative business and social impact ideas, hoping the judges would award seed funds to help advance their innovative solutions.

The spirited contest is the Brewed Ideas Challenge, hosted annually by Marquette’s Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation Initiative in partnership with Brady Corporation.

“The challenge is a premier innovation event at Marquette. It is an opportunity to advance an idea, share it with an audience and possibly earn funding to help scale,” says Kelsey Otero, senior director of community engagement in the Office of University Relations. “The support, through mentorship and funding that this program provides, helps to put ideas into action.”

This year marked the 10th year of partnership between Brady Corporation and Marquette University on pitch competitions. This year’s in-person live pitch event awarded a record $25,000 in seed money to first-and second-place winners competing in two tracks: social venture and traditional business. Prizes are also given for Audience Choice, the Brady Innovation Award, Excellence in Inclusive Impact and the Sodexo Student Startup Award, a new recognition this year.

Competition this year was tough: only 10 finalists were chosen to- pitch in front of the judges and audience.

“We had a record number of applications for this year with an impressive group of finalists for the event,” Otero says.

The students prepared rigorously to conduct the perfect pitch by attending workshops and participating in pitch practice sessions.

Tom Avery is the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the 707 Hub, and a mentor to the Brewed Ideas finalists. He meets with the finalists to give advice and guidance going into the pitch and helped every finalist team with pitch practice sessions.

“The partnership between an established business like Brady Corporation and Marquette University and its students is a huge win for the community,” Avery says. “It goes well beyond any other opportunity we provide student entrepreneurs to get real world experience pitching their ideas on a very public stage.”

This year’s competition was the first Brewed Ideas conducted fully in-person since 2019. Judges, all Marquette alumni, included Brien Christopherson, vice president of research and development at Brady Corporation; Nicole Westenberger, vice president of marketing at Brady Corporation; Akin Owolabi, co-founder and chief technology officer at Cura; and Mehul Desai, founder and CEO at DeZai.

Participants are judged on criteria like whether they identified their target market, if they had evidence that their proposed solution is validated, and if they understood their funding needs. The finalists who scored the highest out of 45 total points in their respective track would win in that category.

The 2023 winners are:

  • 1st place — Social Impact: Professional Development Fellowship (Alma Sandoval Garcia, Fátima Jiménez González and Maria Tijerina). The Marquette Fellowship for Inclusive Experiential Learning provides undocumented students who do not have access to DACA or work authorization, with professional experiences to supplement their academic and curricular work.
  • 2nd place — Social Impact: Wudu You (Jack Killian and Leen Mortada). The Wudu You is a portable washing station that enables Muslim students to perform ablution.
  • 1st place — Traditional Business: The GreyBand (Thomas Florian) is a wearable breathalyzer wristband with an interwoven app.
  • 2nd place — Traditional Business: GreenMind: Intelligent Plan Pot (Danny Hudetz) is an AI-enabled talking plant pot with water sensor.
  • Brady Innovation Award: PASS: Pressure Alerting Seating System (Jared Pilet and Rebecca Pilet). PASS is a real-time pressure adjusting wheelchair seat. The use of this system would help prevent the development of pressure wounds, as well as give early indications of pressure wound risks which could reduce the severity of pressure wounds for wheelchair users.
  • Excellence in Inclusive Impact: Without Bounds MKE (Arianna Balton) bridges non-governmental organizations to youths from various racial and ethnic backgrounds in Milwaukee for enrichment experiences.
  • Audience Choice: Professional Development Fellowship team
  • Sodexo Student Startup Award, selected by members of the Dorm Fund: Ball Different, LLC (Bennett Barr). Ball Different is patent-pending and is a basketball seam tape with a charitable giveback to support local organizations. The user can apply this tape to any existing basketball in less than 5 minutes. The tape provides customization and identification to the basketball.

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