UW-River Falls innovation teams advance to international competition

April 15, 2016 —The University of Wisconsin-River Falls innovation teams Hippy Feet and Protein Pod placed first and third, respectively, at the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament held in Madison April 9.

First place winner Michael Mader, a UW-River Falls senior marketing major, won a $25,000 Ideadvance Grant and a place in the International Business Model Competition (IBMC) April 29-30 at the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Wash., with his Hippy Feet idea.

After qualifying for the IBMC in the At-Large Round, freshman Edward Matsushima, a double major in business administration and exercise science, and Zach Merrick, also a business administration major, took third place with their Protein Pod.

At the international competition, the UW-River Falls students will compete with teams from around the world for more than $75,000 in prize money.

Hippy Feet

Mader's social enterprise Hippy Feet idea is based off the Salvation Army's findings that the number one requested item in homeless shelters is socks. Hippy Feet provides a solution to this pervasive problem by offering a buy-one give-one product. Purchasing the organic, durable wool sock allows the customer to give back as a pair of socks is automatically donated to a local homeless shelter.

Protein Pod

Matsushima (pictured) and Merrick's Protein Pod business idea offers a convenient transportation method for nutritional protein to maximize the benefits by reducing the amount of time between a workout and administration of the supplement.

Both teams had previously competed in the UW-River Falls Innovation Challenge offered through the Center for Innovation and Business Development within the College of Business and Economics and made possible through financial contributions by AGS Data Systems, WiSys Technology Foundation and UW-Extension. Marina Onken, associate professor of management, serves as the faculty adviser for the program. Derrick Edwards, president of AGS Data Systems, generously donated his time to mentor both teams.

UW-River Falls annual Innovation Challenge was created to support business startups on campus and reward innovative ideas. The Innovation Challenge is modeled around recent research in Lean Startup that guides entrepreneurs to "get out of the building" and test their business assumptions utilizing tools such as the Business Model Canvas. This process is different from the typical Business Plan Competition; entrepreneurs are rewarded for creating a hypothesis, testing their assumptions with potential customers and pivoting their business idea based on the high-quality feedback they are receiving.  Many startup businesses fail and the Lean Startup methodology helps entrepreneurs reduce the risk of failure through testing their business assumptions. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to find failure points early in the process; in fact, the more weaknesses that are identified and pivots to their ideas based on that feedback, the better.

UW-River Falls recently awarded the College of Business and Economics funding to move forward with an "Accelerating Innovation" program. This program intends to create a culture of innovation on campus by consolidating a MakerSpace and offering specific course-work in Innovation, Design and Diffusion of new ideas.

For more information about innovation at UWRF, email Danielle Campeau, director of the Center for Innovation and Business Development, at

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