Six months ago, the 570 first-year students competing in the Daniels College of Business’ Madden Challenge were walking across their high school graduation stages. On the evening of Nov. 9, the competition finalists presented mobile apps they had designed to a panel of potential investors.
“It’s amazing to see how far these young people have come in such a short period of time,” said Stephen Haag, Daniels’ director of entrepreneurship and director of the Madden Challenge program, with no shortage of pride.
Now in its sixth year, the Madden Challenge is an annual mobile app pitch competition for students in “Gateway to Business,” an introductory course at Daniels that provides students with foundational knowledge in business and entrepreneurship. The competition began in 2012, when John Madden Jr., a local commercial real estate developer, donated $125,000 to Daniels to fund the competition. The family’s contribution provides the winners of the challenge with seed money to help get their mobile app ideas up-and-running.
This year’s Madden Challenge winners—a team of five —presented their idea for an app that allows users to text popular sound bites to friends. The team explained that the app, called “Bytes,” would help users “spice up” their text conversations, while reducing text confusion or misinterpretation. For instance, if a user wants to accurately convey how poorly they performed on a test, instead of texting their friend, “It did not go well,” they could send a sound bite from the TV show, “The Office,” where Michael—the offbeat manager—is having a meltdown.
The “Bytes” team, along with five other groups of competitors, were evaluated by two panels of judges: a group of entrepreneurs and business professionals from a variety of industries; and a group of teenagers, who are often part of the apps’ younger target market.
The other apps that were presented include “Lurk Alert,” a campus safety tool for students to use when walking home at night, and “REFLCTN,” a mobile shopping app for unisex clothing. Another app, called “Community Jobs,” was presented as the “Airbnb of quick jobs,” as it is designed to connect teens, looking for extra cash, with community members who want to outsource jobs like yard work. Students also pitched “GuideMe,” an app to help millennials customize travel plans, as well as “Groove,” which helps connect users with cheap concert tickets.
Although there were just six teams presenting their ideas on Thursday night, roughly 800 students enrolled in the “Gateway to Business” class this year, making it one of the most popular courses offered at Daniels. Haag took time to thank all the staff and faculty members who help teach and provide support for the students in this course. “This wouldn’t be possible without all of you,” he said.
The winners of the challenge also expressed their thanks to Haag, whose passion for the challenge, coupled with his pride in the students was obvious to everyone in attendance.
“It’s wonderful to see how far you all have come,” Haag said. “Did you even know each other 11 weeks ago?”
The seemingly tight-knit group of students, who were huddled together for a team photo with the Madden Cup, smiled and shook their heads.