Cozad New Venture Challenge Goes Big This Year!

3/28/2023 Urvashi Jha

Written by Urvashi Jha

Mesh++ is bridging the digital divide with solar powered WiFi. PSYONIC is offering affordable and accessible prosthesis with unique bionic abilities. Sun King is delivering clean and affordable solar power to over 82 million people across Asia and Africa. Prenosis is transforming clinical diagnosis with artificial intelligence. Trala is revolutionizing the music education industry. 2022 Cozad winner - Haylon Technologies is developing a smart battery management system. The Cozad New Venture Challenge has played a pivotal role in propelling these and several notable Illinois startups.

Established in 2000, the Cozad New Venture Challenge (originally called the V. Dale Cozad Business Plan Competition) has seen a significant growth in various aspects of competition this year. The experiential program that is focused on fostering an entrepreneurial mindset and supports the creation of new sustainable business ventures has seen an increase in total funding, student participation, new campus-wide collaborations, and mentoring support.

The campus-wide competition kicked off in February, and it recorded the highest number of student startup teams’ applications to date with 168 teams and over 400 students representing 10 colleges. The teams are competing for funding and prizes from a record pool of over $300,000. Over $2.5 million has been awarded in cash, top placement, and sponsor prizes to student innovators through Cozad since 2000.   

Another significant development this year is the addition of a healthcare track in collaboration with the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. The new track provides access to top-notch mentors for healthcare teams and guidance related to commercializing medical technologies, and access to a prize pool for healthcare-related teams only.

The participating teams are addressing real-world issues by developing apps and resources for mental health, creating platforms for informed decision-making across verticals, exploring automation, revolutionizing diagnosis with new technologies, and offering environmental-friendly and sustainable solutions.

Cozad provides mentoring to startup teams through the phases of venture creation, and resources in idea validation, and assistance with filing patent and trademark applications. During the spring semester, the teams attended 4 workshops covering topics such as customer discovery, defining the value proposition of their startup ideas, financials, and pitching.

Coad New Venture Challenge 2023 Workshop 
Coad New Venture Challenge 2023 Workshop 

In addition to the 4 workshops, the program collaborated with the student-run Entrepreneurship Hub to offer advising hours. Also, the new collaboration with campus partners such as the Siebel Center for Design and The Hub for Brand Innovation and Advertising Technology offered teams workshops to learn about collaborative connections and storytelling, respectively.

Earlier this month, the agriculture focused teams received special access to AgTech Industry Connect—a collaborative effort between other midwestern universities to learn from experienced entrepreneurs in the agriculture technology related space. In early April, select teams also got the unique opportunity to pitch for feedback from Martin Eberhard, Illinois alumni and the co-founder of Tesla. Martin Eberhard shared his invaluable insights about the key elements of an effective pitch. 

Martin Eberhard with Sakura Medtech Team! 
Sakura Medtech Team! (L-R): Uditha Velidandla (Bioengineering), Martin Eberhard, Priya Kumar (Bioengineering)

Around 100 teams that progressed through the competition mandatory requirements are gearing up to pitch their ideas and showcase prototypes to venture capitalists, early-stage investors, and experienced entrepreneurs at the Demo Day on April 13 at the I-Hotel and Conference Center. Dhruv Mehta, computer science major student and founder of GuruCol, an online platform that aims to connect students with college counsellors at an affordable price says, “I have been developing this idea for a while now and Demo Day will be the first time that I will put this idea out in the public and get feedback. I am really excited to see how it goes.”

Cozad New Venture Challenge 2023 Workshop on Customer Discovery! 
Cozad New Venture Challenge 2023 Workshop on Customer Discovery! 

Cozad New Venture Challenge will conclude with 7 shortlisted teams pitching their startup ideas at the Finals event on April 19 at the Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago and End of The Year Entrepreneurship Celebration and Awards Ceremony on April 26 on campus.

Who will win the Cozad New Venture Challenge? Register for the Finals Event to find out. Register here.

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This story was published March 28, 2023.