Cozad New Venture Challenge


2023 Cozad Award Winners

Congratulations to all of the teams that participated this year! Learn more about which University of Illinois startups won the top prizes, as well as which startups won dozens of other awards in the form of funding, cash, and in-kind prizes.

Learn More


Cozad New Venture Challenge Success Stories

Patrick Walsh<br>Co-founder & CEO
Patrick Walsh
Co-founder & CEO

Sun King


Sun King (formerly Greenlight Planet) operates the world's largest direct-to-consumer, pay-as-you-go solar distribution network. In 2022, the company raised $260 million in series D funding, the largest investment in the off-grid energy sector ever. 

We’ve provided our products to about 100 million people across Asia and Africa since 2007. We have 2,500 employees and 25,000 sales agents working today to distribute our products—to distribute not only basic solar lights, but also bigger solar systems that can power people’s whole homes. All of this was seriously made possible by the Technology Entrepreneur Center, and specifically by Andy Singer, helping to establish that entrepreneurial spirit in me as a student, and helping Sun King to get started.

Patrick Walsh

Alex Kosyakov<br>Co-founder
Alex Kosyakov



Natrion develops solid-state lithium-ion and sodium-ion battery components for electric mobility and defense applications. In May 2022, the clean energy startup secured $2 million in seed funding. In 2021, Natrion also secured significant funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, including a $200,000 Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) contract from the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

Going through the Cozad New Venture Challenge helped our team evolve considerably. What we learned helped us to not only win the Grand Prize, but continues to be essential in our everyday work as we raise capital, secure commercial pilots, and take Natrion to new heights.

Alex Kosyakov

Cara Bognar, Founder<br>Allison Landis, COO
Cara Bognar, Founder
Allison Landis, COO

Top Tier Lessons


Top Tier Lessons is an online platform that connects college student athletes with parents in the community looking for sports lessons for their kids. Led by Cara Bognar, D1 swimmer at UIUC, Top Tier Lessons leverages the new market opportunity provided by the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) bill that was passed in 2021. NIL refers to an individual's ability to capitalize on their right of publicity and to be compensated through third-party endorsements.

The Cozad New Venture Challenge has always represented the pinnacle of everything the entrepreneurship ecosystem at UIUC offers and stands for. We never would have imagined being able to win! This funding will help keep us on track to launch in another 20 schools and continue to inspire future generations of athletes. I’m grateful for how Cozad has supported me every step of the way.

Cara Bognar

Aadeel Akhtar<br>Founder &amp; CEO
Aadeel Akhtar
Founder & CEO



PSYONIC makes the Ability Hand, an advanced bionic hand with sensory feedback that was released nationally in 2021. The startup provides an affordable and accessible prosthesis with unique bionic abilities.

Paul Couston<br>Co-founder
Paul Couston

Ascent Integrated Tech


Paul Couston is the co-founder of Ascent Integrated Tech, a startup that has developed a single screen dashboard to improve the safety of firefighters, special forces, SWAT teams, and hazmat teams. The startup provides actionable insights on the health, environment, and location of team members. Prior to Ascent Integrated Tech, Paul co-founded Optivolt Labs, a clean energy firm.

Photo Album | Cozad New Venture Challenge 2023

View and Download Photos