Enter the Chicago Innovation Challenge by October 1 and win up to $2,500!

Date: 
Sun, 2017/09/17

Fueling innovation is said to be in the DNA of Illinois Tech. Every student attending the university could be capable of inventing the next big tech device or the next app that will revolutionize an industry. Whether it’s building the new Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, challenging students to create advanced and original projects for their IPRO project submissions, or starting businesses during their student years or shortly after graduation, Illinois Tech tries to encourage its students to solve tough consumer or business problems.

Creating products and apps that solve real consumer and business problems is the foundation of the 2017 Chicago Innovation Challenge (CIC) sponsored by the Jules F. Knapp Entrepreneurship Center, The Fogelson Family Foundation, the Coleman Foundation and the mHub, Chicago’s premier co-working space for the design and prototyping of physical projects. The 2017 Chicago Innovation Challenge (web.iit.edu/knapp-center/chicago-innovation-challenge) has three divisions that qualified students can enter: currently enrolled Illinois Tech students, currently enrolled students at another college or university with a physical presence in Chicago, and currently enrolled high school students attending any Chicago public school, Chicago public charter school or Chicago public selective school. Endorsed by the city's mayor, the challenge is now in its second year.

The Knapp Center recognizes that competitions, especially those with cash and other prizes, motivate students to participate. Competition winners also have the opportunity to brag about winning on their resumes, during job interviews, and on their social media accounts. Winners, and even participants, stand out in a crowd of “me too” job applicants because winning competitions shows potential hiring managers that these applicants can demonstrate creativity, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and (depending on the competition) the ability to work as a team with other members to accomplish a goal.

The competition has a design and format that educates student innovators and lets them gain real-world skills like creating mock-ups, pitch decks, video presentations and a “live pitch.” Contestants can enter as sole inventors or as part of a team (up to four students from the same educational institution can form a student team) and compete by presenting their ideas and defending them. Also, teams that work together gain experience in the division of labor and collaborative thinking, fostering teamwork and creative problem-solving. Another aspect of the CIC is access to a free mentor to help guide the team or a sole contestant on market analysis, prototyping, revenue streams and other requirements of the challenge to work towards a specific goal.

The CIC has divided the competition into steps that are intended to be manageable and implementable. These steps are laid out in the official rules, as well as when participants apply at the Startup Compete platform (https://iitchicago2017.startupcompete.co/). For example, rather than asking participants for a comprehensive slide deck or a prototype in Stage 1, the competition has made it very easy for as many students or student teams as possible to enter.  In Stage 1, besides entering basic biographical information, the competition asks contestants to identify a real-world consumer or business problem or need, develop a solution to the stated problem or need, and provide a basic illustration, photo, drawing, or simple wire framework or the interface for an app. After that stage, the candidate pool will be narrowed down to quarter-finalists. Quarter-finalists will have to prepare some additional work to advance to the next level of participation and reach the semi-finalist stage. At that point, judges will narrow down semi-finalists to a group of five students or student teams that will then be asked to polish up their pitch decks, prototypes, and/or frameworks and prepare a video and a “live pitch” to a small group of talented judges.

The CIC provides resources and internal and external mentors at Stage 2. As teams move through the stages, they build a repository of resources, knowledge, IP potential, and prototype or framework knowledge. The contestants, at all stages, will get Knapp Entrepreneurship Center social media coverage and exposure to Knapp Entrepreneurship Center advisory board members and staff.

The 2017 academic year is the second year of the Chicago Innovation Challenge, but the Knapp Entrepreneurship Center already has a commitment from the Fogelson Family Foundation to keep the competition running for the 2018 academic year. Moreover, the Knapp Entrepreneurship Center and Illinois Tech's Institutional Advancement team are working together and looking for ways to grow the Chicago Innovation Challenge competition and help ensure it goes on as long as there is demand from businesses and students in Chicago. As the competition unfolds, the greatest benefit in intended to be to Illinois Tech and other Chicagoland students as they learn many aspects of starting and growing an idea into a full-blown business, or how to license and sell their creative solutions or technology to an industry leader. Several finalists from last year’s competition have taken their products and apps to market. The deadline to register a potential "Big Idea" for the challenge is October 1 at 11:59 p.m.