Innovation Quest organizers expect ‘extraordinary turnout’ for this year’s competition

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Leaders of UConn’s highly successful Innovation Quest (iQ) competition said there are millions of diverse ideas that could create successful startups.

But an irrevocable dynamic separates those who succeed from those who fail.

“The key to success is continuous innovation,” says Rich Dino, iQ program director, who is also a serial entrepreneur and associate professor emeritus. “Our entrepreneurs learn to ‘hear the footsteps behind them’ and accelerate the movement by continuing to innovate.”

Startup contest starts February 9

Now in her 11and year, Innovation Quest, a student-focused startup competition, is better than ever, says Keith Fox ’80 (BUS), who created the program here. The competition is open to undergraduate and graduate students from any UConn school or college. As they progress through the program, students are mentored by experts in business planning, technology, patent law, marketing, finance, and more.

The top three finalists receive $15,000, $10,000, and $5,000 for their startups. Top competitors are invited to iQ’s Summer InQbator program, which helps them advance their apps and ideas.

This year’s events will be held virtually due to COVID. The launch workshop is at 6:30 p.m. on February 9, with additional workshops on February 16, March 2, and March 9. The deadline to complete the official application is March 23. For more information or to register for the launch workshop, please visit: innovationquest.uconn.edu.

“We expect an extraordinary turnout,” says Dino. “UConn students are more aware than ever of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that exists here, and many have chosen to come to UConn to participate. Our students are bursting with incredible ideas.”

Ideas are getting more and more sophisticated

iQ participants have created companies that deal with everything from medical innovation to healthier fish food, from unique sports equipment to cancer treatments and from artificial limbs to healthy drinks.

Last year, Raina Jain ’24 (BUS), then a freshman, won first place with her immune support supplement QueenBee. Alumni Tim Krupski ’15 (ENG) and Jeremy Bronen ’20 (ENG) took second place with Sedentary Medical Solutions, a toilet lift assist product for the elderly or disabled. And Jake Winter ’22 (ENG) and Massyl Mallem ’23 (ENG) took third place for Patent Plus, an artificial intelligence-based software tool that helps inventors more easily determine if their invention is unique.

“Innovation Quest was formulated specifically for UConn students,” says Dino. “We welcome students with open arms, either because they have an idea they want to pursue or because they would like the opportunity to work with other like-minded, high-achieving people. .”

“Ideas are now more sophisticated than they have ever been,” says Dino. “Our program does not distribute a magic formula that automatically makes you a successful entrepreneur. When students have a deep conviction that this is what they want, we let them know that we are going to take the journey with them and accompany them along the way.”

The iQ program emphasizes three critical factors: creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, says Fox, who has worked as a senior executive at Apple and Cisco.

“Whether you’re starting a business or not, these skills are invaluable in the workplace,” Fox says. “We teach opportunity. We will push you to innovate, learn and compete.”

Top-notch mentors shape the student experience

One of the program’s strengths is its large pool of business mentors, Fox says. Over the past decade, dozens of business experts have coached iQ students at UConn and the advice they’ve offered has been invaluable, Fox says.

“Our mentors have been a deep and valuable resource for students to bridge the skills and expertise gap,” says Dino. “No mentor is there for their own financial gain, other than the excitement they get from working with the best and the brightest. They want to help move ideas forward and provide the resources they would like to have as students and young entrepreneurs. The program rests on the shoulders of our mentors, therein lies the power.”

The program benefits both our students and our state

Fox learned about the iQ program when he served on Cal Poly’s President’s Advisory Board and brought the program to UConn. In a typical year, hundreds of students attend. But beyond helping individual students, its success has made entrepreneurship a priority at UConn.

“It has been very rewarding to watch this grow. It all started with an idea and took off. Last year was a milestone and we celebrated a decade of success,” Fox said. “Some 700 teams have participated in iQ since its inception, which means thousands of students have raised their hands to say they want to explore entrepreneurship. We should celebrate that.”

“Ultimately, the biggest winner of this contest is the entire state of Connecticut,” Fox says. “I graduated from UConn in 1980 and was an entrepreneur, co-owner of my own computer store. Connecticut was founded on entrepreneurship and innovation, and it’s very much alive here today.”

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