Community Resources

UWRF Innovation Challenge


Have a big idea? Undergraduate and graduate students can explore the possibility of turning their business ideas into reality. Utilizing the Lean Startup Methodology, students can develop their ideas into a viable business and compete to win up to $30,000!

Competition Basics

Student teams select a faculty mentor and register for the competition here. All teams will be required to utilize the Business Model Canvas. Teams will prepare a 10-minute presentation covering their business idea and their utilization of the Business Model Canvas. For examples of these presentations, view the past winners here. Watch the video below to learn more about the Business Model Canvas and associated Lean Startup Model.

For more information, see the Student Orientation Packet


Frequently Asked Questions

How many members can I have on my team?

Competing teams should consist of at least one and no more than three undergraduate degree-seeking students who are enrolled part-time (minimum of six credit hours) or full-time at a UW System school (except UW-Madison) in the semester of the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament (spring semester). Graduate teams interested in applying for the International Business Model Competition at-large category must be degree-seeking and enrolled part-time during one semester of the academic year the competition takes place.

Can international students visiting the UWRF campus participate?

Yes, international students are eligible to participate if they are enrolled as an undergraduate with a minimum of six credits in the spring semester. It is important to note that the winner of the state finals earns an Ideadvance Stage 1 award (worth up to $25,000) that is contingent on the business being formed in Wisconsin. If the state winner were an international student and they were not able to form a business in Wisconsin, they would not be eligible for the Ideadvance award.

Must ALL members of the team be enrolled part-time during the spring semester to compete in the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament?

Non-undergraduate students (or graduates) may be part of the venture but cannot participate in the state or international competition (e.g., pitching, Q&A, etc.). The eligibility requirement is any student participating in the state or international finals needs to be an undergraduate enrolled in a minimum of six credits in the spring semester. In general, a member of the student team should be CEO, COO or president of the venture, or members of the student team should occupy 50 percent or more of the functional area management positions that report directly to the CEO, COO or president.

Can you discuss any concerns regarding intellectual property rights?

Participants own the IP (Intellectual Property) and can disclose to WiSys or file for a patent on their own if they want. We don't require anyone to sign an NDA or non-compete to participate. This defeats the purpose of this type of format and is becoming a standard practice for accelerators and angels/venture capitalists. At the center of what participants are going to be judged on at the State Final is Lean Startup and customer development which shouldn't require dissemination of proprietary information. Participants should instead be focused on telling their learning journey and how they validated (or invalidated and pivoted) the elements of their business model.

What is Lean Startup and the Business Model Canvas?

Check out these resources for more information on this topic. You will also have access to the D2L course beginning in November to learn more about the Business Model.

Can I see an example of a past winner's work?
How can I find a mentor?

You can connect with Dr. Marina Onken or Danielle Campeau if you need assistance finding a mentor.

What if I have an idea but don't want to work on it alone?

We will assist you in finding additional team members if needed. Additionally, feel free to network at the Orientation Event to find other students that may be interested.

Innovation Challenge Timeline

Oct. 25, 2017


University Center 5-7 p.m.

Review orientation packet, develop business idea.

Nov. 15, 2017

Innovator in Residence Speaking Event

Riverview Ballroom, University Center
2-3 p.m.



Nov.  22, 2017

Registration Deadline

Please use the registration button at the top of this page.


Nov.  29, 2017

Meeting: Innovation Challenge Orientation and WiSys Overview 

12A South Hall
4-5 p.m.

Record interviews of 100 people over Winter Break, create Business Model Canvas

Jan.  31, 2018

Meeting: Customer Discovery Recap

221 South Hall
4-5 p.m.

Create draft of your presentation, continue interviews.

Feb. 13, 2018

Meeting: Presentation Prep


221 South Hall  4-5p.m.

Run through presentation and make suggested updates, continue interviews.

Feb. 28, 2018

Meeting: Presentation Practice



Presentation rehearsal-teams scheduled for a one hour practice session

March 8, 2018

Innovation Challenge-Competition

St. Croix Room, University Center

Presentations from
2-4 p.m.       

Speed networking at 4 p.m.

Winners announced at 5 p.m.

March 23, 2018

At large application to WBIT


Second place team will apply to at-large round for WBIT

March 30, 2018

At large application to WBIT


All teams encouraged to apply.


WI Big Idea Tournament

Madison, WI

Drive down Friday evening

Mid-May 2018

International Business Model Competition*


Fly to IBMC location

Prizes and Awards

1st place:  $3,000 business stipend*
2nd place: $2,000 business stipend*                                                                                                                        3rd Place: $1,000 Business Stipend*

*Business stipends must be used for activities or supplies directly related to starting or growing the business idea entered in the Innovation Challenge.

Additional incentives

  • Entry into and travel to the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament in Madison, WI, for the 1st place winner
  • Assistance applying to the International Business Model Competition at-large option
  • Access to Learn Startup workshops
  • Feedback from entrepreneurs and regional business leaders serving as competition judges
  • Free access to UW-Extension's D2L course about Learn Startup and the Business Model Canvas process
  • Opportunity to present your business idea to the UWRF Foundation Board for funding consideration


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