Student Startup Challenge


Our vision is to be a hub for student entrepreneurship, experiential learning and co-creation at UWM and to be nationally recognized for producing innovators who change the world.

The Contest

Innovative ideas for startup companies and products are sought. Winning ideas will form the basis for new companies launched as part of the program. The program will help student-entrepreneurs build a team, develop working prototypes and launch a company based on their concepts. They will be judged on their novelty, viability as a new business or product and their appropriateness for prototyping/development.

Tracks and Themes

We will fund up to 10 innovative ideas along different themes that we can support thorough various tracks, including:

  • product development (hardware)
  • software applications (mobile apps)
  • water technologies
  • energy-based research and design
  • social entrepreneurship and sustainable communities
  • consumer products

Our newest track, Sustainable Communities, will be run by Anne Basting. Proposals to this track will work with a team of students here in Milwaukee to test their ideas, and should invest in interpersonal, long-lasting, and positive impacts on local communities, with the potential for transfer ability to other locales. Business models that we help you develop can be non- or for-profit, and we will support winners in envisioning a sustainable mode.

How to Enter

Online entries can be in any form: images, documents, presentations, videos or other media and must include the following:

  • Clear articulation of the idea.
  • What problem does it solve?
  • How does it work?


The contest is sponsored by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), UW System Growth Agenda for Wisconsin, College of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Information Studies, Peck School of the Arts and the UWM Research Foundation. Up to eight selected teams will each have access to $5,000 (mobile apps and sustainable communities) or $10,000 (products) in operational budget. This money has portions earmarked for material expenses, production, and/or the standard industry fee for Product Realization resources, while some is set aside for spending by the team, pending approval from the advisory board.

Who Can Apply

The contest is open to all current UWM students in all schools and colleges and UWM alumni who have graduated within the last two years. Students do not need to be engineering or business students to apply – ideas are sought from all disciplines.


Students can apply immediately, and early entries will benefit from more discussion and brainstorming.

The Outcome

The winning ideas will be developed over a 12 month period starting in the fall. Our objectives include:

  • A Prototype – a working prototype device, mobile app, or tested support model will be developed by students using CEAS, SOIS and Peck design classes. (Students do not need to be enrolled to apply; however, winning applications must be willing to act as advisors to student design teams);
  • An Entrepreneurial Team – A student-led team will be developed to advance the business;
  • Business Mentorship – local successful entrepreneurs and business leaders will help guide the student teams in developing their businesses;
  • A Business Launch – the team will launch a business, including legal formation; and
  • An Investor-Ready Business Plan – working with business mentors, the team will develop a business plan that will be ready to present to investors, or to apply for funding.
  • The top two mobile app teams will also have an opportunity to present at the next South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference.

The mobile app and sustainable communities teams win up to $5000 in operational budget, and support for prototyping and/or development and testing with several students and a supervisor in classes at UWM. The product teams require much more support in terms of materials and expenses for Product Realization development in the UWM labs. Out of their $10,000, $5,000 is earmarked to pay the Product Realization standard fee. $2500 is dedicated to material expenses for the prototype, and the last $2500 is operational budget for the business. All expenses must be approved by the SSC board as something beneficial to your company, which may include office space, computers, travel expenses or consultants, to name a few possibilities that have come up in the past.


Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Protection

The contest is designed to foster better decision making by involving a variety of players. Initial submissions can be treated as confidential upon request; however, the project sponsors reserve the right to share a non-confidential summary of all ideas. Intellectual Property remains the property of the disclosing party.

Advisory Board

An advisory board, consisting of deans, faculty members, industry partners, serial entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, will select up to ten projects to be launched, and continue to help shape the program.

More Information

For more information, contact: Dr. Ilya Avdeev (CEAS), E-mail: OR check out the Student Startup Challenge site here.