College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Cozad New Venture Competition: Contendable


By Jason Febery

During my time at the University of Illinois, one important lesson has always stuck with me: Entrepreneurship lies at the heart of any successful business.

Last week, I got to put that lesson to the test. My team – composed of Zach Tratar (junior in Computer Engineering) and myself – was competing with five others in the finals of this year’s Cozad New Venture Competition. The goal of the months-long competition was to foster a sense of entrepreneurship within our student body by having students build sustainable business models from the ground up.

Zach and I were excited to present our work to the panel of judges. We had committed a lot of time to the competition over the past few months, and were keen to get feedback from some of the leading experts in the fields of intellectual property, venture capital, and emerging technology startups.

Our idea was simple. We wanted to come up with an easier way for universities and businesses to host competitions online.

Before Cozad, I had organized a number of competitions for various student organizations and I knew just how much work goes into managing competitions online. First, you have to set up the competition website. Then you have to recruit students to compete in the competition, set eligibility criteria, select judges, and finally manage the communication and deliverables between judges and competitors manually.

In many cases, these behind-the-scenes tasks can take dozens of hours.

So Zach and I came up with Contendable, a centralized platform for managing competitions on the web. In the early weeks of development, we had two key targets in mind: universities and businesses.

For universities or student groups thinking about hosting a competition, our main selling point would be the fact that Contendable would drastically reduce the workload associated with hosting a competition. Our intuitive user interface would be designed to turn hours of development and oversight into minutes of customization, saving time, money, and endless frustration – all on our cloud-based platform.

But that’s not it. In fact, we saw Contendable’s true potential lying in its ability to crowdsource innovative solutions to pressing business problems. The flexible nature of the platform we were working on would allow virtually anything to be crowdsourced, whether it was a competition to design a logo for a new startup or a competition to create the next flavor of Mountain Dew or design the next Super Bowl commercial for Doritos.

Best of all, the crowdsourcing of business problems had been shown to be effective. Companies like Under Armour, General Electric, and Cisco Systems have already begun to solicit ideas directly from their customers. And a recent study in The Economist found that there was a 74% ROI for crowdsourcing, much higher than traditional outsourcing or central production methods.

This was the thrust of our pitch to the Cozad judges. With ten minutes to present, we could only cover a limited number of topics. But we did our best to strike a balance between talking about Contendable’s main features and benefits and our strategies for making those benefits a reality.

Several hours after the competition, we received the good news. The judges had chosen Contendable as the “Most Fundable Venture” – along with the solar cell technology of Effimax Solar – and also the “Best Venture Pitch.” In total, we were thrilled to win more than $15,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, including the Illinois Technology Association Incubator Prize, the Singleton Law Firm Prize, and the Enterprise Works Incubator Prize.

Zach and I both plan to use the winnings from the Cozad competition to help us launch Contendable in the coming months. For now, we have a splash page for the site up and running.

If you would like to be invited to receive early access to the site, you can sign at the following address:

Those who sign up with their email address will be notified when the site officially launches later this summer and will have the opportunity to compete for prize purses worth thousands of dollars in areas like logo design, trading, and business analysis – all before some of the country’s top universities and companies.

UIUC College of Business