Every fall, the Baker Institute of Entrepreneurship hosts the EUREKA! Ventures Competition in search of students with innovative solutions to real world problems. Through a series of competitions and a final pitch to a board of experts, the EUREKA! program offers a platform for students, faculty and alumni to work creatively toward needed business proposals.
The EUREKA! program is open to all Lehigh students, faculty and staff, so long as each team has a student as its primary member.
From there, each group has access to coaching and resources from the Baker Institute as it develops a proposal for the competition. Finally, Lehigh faculty review the proposals in a series of three rounds and determine finalists who then pitch their product to a panel of alumni.
On average, student groups spend anywhere from 15 to 45 hours developing their products and perfecting their proposals for the final interview. While finalists are primarily asked to present the sustainability and necessity of their proposals, Lisa Getzler, the executive director of the Baker Institute, said successful student groups must also have genuine passion for their idea and its impact on a pressing issue.
“Our most important criteria for moving a project forward is to gain an understanding of the problem that they’re solving,” Getzler said. “Rather than talking about what your idea is and how you are going to get it to the marketplace, our primary concern with students is the problem you’re solving with your proposed solution, how you know it’s a problem, and the things that need to happen in order to address the needs of your intended market.”
The competition receives about 50 applicants each year. Even so, in accordance with its solution-oriented criteria, the EUREKA! Program also looks to resource as many student projects as possible each year, Getzler said.
She said the goal is to identify as many students or teams as possible to get them to the next step. Getzler said it’s not a matter of being exclusive and choosing just one winner, it’s more about finding students who can get to the next level.
Getzler and the Baker Institute have found that the most beneficial help administered by programs like the EUREKA! Ventures Competition take shape not only in money but also in in-kind awards, like resources, mentorship and work space. As a result, the 2016 EUREKA! Competition will emphasize the development of student entrepreneurs through the a focus on in-kind awards.
“This year, our awards are going to be much more focused on developing the people involved and helping them get closer to their goals so that they can move their idea forward,” Getzler said. “They need access to human resources, people who will mentor them, and some knowledge-acquisition kinds of experiences.”
Nicholas Hirdt, ’17, along with his partner Peter Schwarzenberg, ’16, won the $17,500 EUREKA! Grand Prize last fall for the development of novel IV placement technology. Yet to Hirdt, the most important award was not the cash prize but rather the resources the Baker Institute provided after the competition.
“We won money and some resources from the competition, but I think more important than that are the people that it connected us to,” Hirdt said. “(EUREKA!) allows Lehigh students to start companies, it gives them the resources required to develop products and services, and most importantly it also gives them the connections that they might not be able to find on their own.”
This was the case for fellow winner Carlen Donahue, ’17, member of last year’s first-place team for the EUREKA! Social Impact category.
“I learned a lot of real life skills that I would have never learned in my courses or in my studies,” Donahue said.
In the 2016 competition, semifinalists will be chosen to complete the second round of questions by Nov. 9 at noon. On Nov. 14 and 15, chosen finalists will pitch their proposals in a final interview, and on Nov. 16, winners will be announced.