Inside Innovation Challenge

The old adage, “You’ll never know until you try” perfectly describes the decision to join NDSU’s 2016 Innovation Challenge.

After sitting up in bed one night with an idea, I decided to step into one of the craziest and most rewarding experiences I’ve had during my time at NDSU. This choice is one I would recommend to every single NDSU student, and below is why.

But first, what is Innovation Challenge?

No doubt students who read their emails have seen at least one mention of it, so here’s the skinny:

Innovation Challenge is an idea competition hosted by NDSU’s Research and Technology Park. Basically, students come up with a new idea and work their way through the process of making that idea stand on its own as a viable “product” that can be taken to market.

That being said, students can place their idea into one of four categories: products, services, social or agriculture. Competing as teams or individually, they then choose a faculty advisor to oversee their progress.

Way back in November, idea proposals were written and submitted to judges. From those, a few groups were eliminated. The second round occurred in January, with students setting up booths in the Great Plains Ballroom and pitching their ideas to both people from the community, NDSU students and faculty and a second set of judges. Again, a few more groups left the mix.

Those students who made it past the second round now have final presentations on Thursday, February 25, in front of yet another group of judges to determine the winners.

First place in each track (so four teams) win $5,000, with second place bringing home $1,000 and third place scoring $500. A total of $27,000 will be spent on these prizes, with the final $1,000 going to the People’s Choice innovation.

Why join Innovation Challenge?

This opportunity allows you to take absolutely no risk to find out if one of your random ideas is actually a good one. Almost everyone has had that “why hasn’t someone invented this?” moment, and Innovation Challenge is the key to figuring it out.

Outside of simply getting to throw a random idea into existence, the process of molding that idea throughout the challenge is a life skill that I have only encountered in one or two classes during my four years at NDSU. Innovation Challenge forces you to confront the issues with your idea and to adapt it and change it to what the market will want. That type of experience is invaluable in the professional world.

Doing the challenge also helps you grow as a person. You (or someone on your team) have to write well, converse well and present well to make it through the competition. The entire project’s success is your responsibility so every triumph is a personal one. After doing the challenge, I feel much more equipped to one day develop ideas and products in my future career.

Though Innovation Challenge sounds intimidating, an opportunity like it is rare and you would be crazy not to take it. While a majority of the competitors are super-smart engineers building prosthetic legs and biochem majors hoping to cure cancer, a math- or science-intensive major is not a requirement. I went in as a hospitality and tourism major with absolutely no entrepreneurial or engineering background and have made it through to the final round.

Even if you have a small idea, writing an idea proposal and gaining that critical feedback from judges can take it one step further. Participating in Innovation Challenge really means you have nothing to lose, and up to $5,000 to gain.

Though the competition is over for this year, it starts up again next October, which gives plenty of time to start thinking.

If you’re interested in seeing the winning ideas and talking with all final competitors from 2016, join us on March 1, in the Fargodome mezzanine for (free!) food and a chance to catch a glimpse of the next big idea.

Meghan Battest is a senior majoring in hospitality and tourism management.

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