student competing in front of judges' panelThe Blazer Innovation Challenge is back!

This fall students with innovative business ideas have the opportunity to win up to $5,000 to help get their potential ventures off the ground. The Collat School of Business will host the third annual Blazer Innovation Challenge, sponsored by IBERIABANK, to encourage UAB students to develop new solutions to product, service or process challenges.

In addition to winning up to $5,000 in prize money, entrants will have the opportunity to benefit from valuable mentoring, coaching and other resources to help incubate their ideas and potentially launch their own startup companies throughout the 2018-19 academic year.

“The Blazer Innovation Challenge is an exciting opportunity for UAB’s bright and creative students to put their great ideas into practice,” said Joel Dobbs, Collat’s entrepreneur-in-residence. “Our students are very perceptive about the challenges around them. This competition allows them to choose a real-world problem they are passionate about and develop solutions. The Blazer Innovation Challenge will allow us to identify, fund and nurture some of the best of these.”

Last year, Venu Kunche, a computer science and entrepreneurship student, took home the top prize for his proposal to create a nutrition bar based on the moringa plant.

“I think it was really helpful, training with Dr. Dobbs and Dr. [Doug] Ayers,” Kunche said. “I learned a lot through that and I gained a lot of useful connections through the Blazer Innovation Challenge that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

After receiving mentoring and coaching, and participating in I-Corps training, Kunche pivoted his idea to focus on the nutrition side and develop a product “that addresses nutritional needs missing from the American diet.” Kunche said students may feel intimidated or that their ideas are good enough, but they need to resist that frame of thought and commit to the Challenge.

“The whole point of entrepreneurship is that you’re going to encounter a lot of difficulties but it’s how you overcome those difficulties that’s important,” he said. “That’s what defines you as an entrepreneur.”

The first round of submissions is due by midnight Nov. 2. Five finalists will be selected to receive initial coaching and compete against one another with live presentations and Q&A before a panel of judges in the Nielsen Innovation Lab in CSB on Nov. 15.

The first-place winner will receive $5,000, while the second- and third-place winners will receive $2,500 and $1,000, respectively. Along with the funding for their idea, the finalists will receive valuable coaching and mentoring from professionals and Collat professors throughout the 2018-19 academic year.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our students to put their ideas on the table and receive mentoring and coaching from professionals on how to turn those ideas into real businesses,” said Eric P. Jack, Ph.D., dean of the Collat School of Business. “We are thrilled to partner with IBERIABANK on this challenge and are eager to see the innovations our students develop.”

The competition will be open to all current UAB students who plan to be enrolled during the entire 2018-19 academic year. Ideas cannot be the result of grant funding, employment at UAB or other direct support from UAB. To apply, visit the Blazer Innovation Challenge website. More information about the competition, rules for eligibility and judging criteria can also be found online.