5 Ways to Excel in the Cozad New Venture Competition

11/16/2015 Christine Olivo

With Wednesday marking the Cozad Kickoff, the Cozad New Venture Competition is quickly approaching. With the competition just around the corner, beginning January 31, 2015 and ending on April 28, 2016, past Cozad New Venture Competition participants are here to give future competitors useful tips on exceling in the competition.

Peter Fiflis and Aadeel Akhtar, both students of the University of Illinois, are no strangers to the Cozad competition. Fiflis, a graduate student in nuclear, plasma and radiological engineering, teamed up with two other NPRE graduate students, Pawel Piotrowicz and Matthew Szott, to create Breakfast Box. Breakfast Box was an automated machine intended to serve breakfast, where users could add their own ingredients and have their breakfast cooked for them over the course of the week. The machine was designed to cook foods such as eggs, pancakes, sausage and bacon.

Akhtar, a fifth year M.D./Ph.D. student in neuroscience, teamed up with Patrick Slade, a senior in mechanical and science engineering, in Spring 2015 to present PSYONIC. PSYONIC’s mission is to be able to develop high quality prosthetic hands at a low cost, making them accessible to those in developing nations. The team won the first place University funded award at the end of the 2015 competition.

With both teams being successful, here are five tips Fiflis and Akhtar have for competing in the Cozad New Venture Competition:

1.Have a compelling story for your pitch.

Cozad is all about advertising and branding your startup, as well as persuading mentors and judges how your startup is going to change the world. In order to be successful, you must be able to explain why everyone can benefit from your startup.

“There’s a really good reason you’re even making your product or startup in the first place,” says Akhtar. “Tell it.”

He also says it’s important to passionate and excited while presenting your startup.

“The judges are investing in you as much as they are the technology.”

2.Start early.

Although the competition takes place from February to April, each startup will quickly realize that there is a lot to do in a very short amount of time.

“Cozad flies by. There’s never enough time to do anything, and certainly not enough to do everything well,” says Fiflis. “Getting a running start can really help.”

3.Talk to the mentors (a lot).

Fiflis said talking to and networking with mentors throughout Cozad is a crucial role in staying apart of the competition.

“The people that mentor Cozad have plenty of combined experience with new businesses. They are incredibly helpful at refining an idea, providing direction, and asking the tough questions,” says Fiflis. “Plus, they have excellent networks. Who knows who you might get introduced to?”

4.Have a working demo.

While it isn’t required, Akhtar said that having a prototype to show visitors during the competition helped them become “miles ahead of the competition.”

“Our prosthetic hand’s real time sensory feedback demo impressed visitors to our booth,” he says.

5.Do your homework.

Akhtar said it is important to be able to answer questions pertaining to:

     -What is your value proposition?

     -What is the market size?

     -What is your path to commercialization?

     -Who is your competition?

“Basically all the things that would go on your business model canvas. The more explicit the numbers, the better,” he says.

The Cozad New Venture competition is an intense and fast paced contest, but following these helpful hints will help the 2015-2016 Cozad contests succesfully conquor the competition.