Student Team from UW-River Falls Wins $25,000 at the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament

April 13, 2015—A small packet of soap has led to very big things for three UW-River Falls students and aspiring entrepreneurs. Eric Wenz, a senior from Hudson majoring in business administration; Andrew Lind, a senior from Bloomington, Minn., majoring in business administration; and An Trieu, a junior from St. Paul, Minn., majoring in chemistry, took first place in the 2nd annual Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament held April 11 in Madison. As a result, Wenz, Lind, and Trieu will receive a $25,000 Ideadvance seed grant from UW-Extension for their startup company, SōPOD.  

SōPOD was founded with the idea of developing biodegradable pod technology that would allow travelers to carry body wash, shampoo, and conditioners in carry-on luggage while avoiding TSA 3-1-1 restrictions. After speaking with potential customers, Wenz, Lind, and Trieu quickly learned that their most promising customer segment is hotels seeking to reduce their carbon footprint. By replacing small plastic shampoo and conditioner containers provided in hotel rooms with biodegradable pods, hotels can significantly reduce their dry waste production. 

In addition to the grant, Wenz, Lind, and Trieu will advance to the International Business Model Competition May 1-2 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The UW-River Falls team will have the opportunity to win up to an additional $25,000 for their company. 

SōPOD was one of two UWRF student-run startups to compete in the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament. The second team was Charg-e Inc., whose first-generation product is a portable power bank with inductive charging, data storage, and enhanced Wi-Fi capabilities for mobile devices. Charg-e Inc. team members are: Jiaxin Li, a senior from River Falls majoring in business administration; Christopher Hansen, a post-baccalaureate student from River Falls; and Thomas Makens a senior from Winona, Minn., majoring in chemistry. Both teams qualified for the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament by placing first and second in the first annual New Venture Competition at UW-River Falls on March 4. 

More information on the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament, including a video recording of the competition, is available at More information on the International Business Model Competition is available at 

For questions, contact Danielle Campeau, director of the UW-River Falls Center for Innovation and Business Development, at 715-425-0643 or email


Photo:  UW-River Falls students Eric Wenz and An Trieu make a presentation to judges during the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament held April 11 in Madison. Wenz, Trieu, and teammate Andrew Lind took first place in the competition, earning a $25,000 seed grant from UW-Extension and a spot in the International Business Model Competition in May.

Contact Us

University Communications
and Marketing
120 North Hall
Phone: 715-425-3771
Fax: 715-425-4486