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The Innovation Challenge

Imagine graduating from college as a failure. Sure you graduated with highest honors with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, but you failed to get into medical school. You also failed to find a job in your industry, so you ended up transitioning from the darling of the science department to selling Cannon copiers by soliciting office buildings. Not the best story right?

Fast-forward a decade and you are invited to judge a pitch contest at your alma mater, because you have become an entrepreneur and built a multi-million dollar company. That just happened to me! I had the honor of going back to McDaniel College to judge their Innovation Challenge. This challenge prompts current McDaniel students to propose business and nonprofit ideas for the chance to win cash prizes, with a $10,000 grand prize, $5,500 second prize and $2,500 prize for third.

The Innovation Challenge did not exist when I was on campus, so I had no idea what to expect. I was incredibly impressed. The forum was filled with hundreds of students waiting to hear the pitches, and the presenters were incredibly polished and prepared (especially for their first pitch.)  I listened to business pitches for a running app, textbook sales app, a multi-purpose convertible tailgating table, therapy dog de-stress room, and a nonprofit that provided reliable transportation for disabled individuals in Carroll County. Problems were outlined, solutions were clearly stated, and markets were discussed. Again, I was very impressed.

Deciding the challenge winner was difficult. Comparing two nonprofits, two apps, and a product is like comparing cucumbers, pineapple, and yogurt; they are very different things. In the end, the team behind Ride With Pride was solid, their idea was excellent, and they had already secured a matching grant that would multiply their winnings into the amount of startup capital they needed to launch. I also loved that one of their cofounders experienced the problem personally, and had a vision for cool vehicles for handicapped transportation instead of minivans. My fingers are crossed for a partnership with a Baltimore chop shop that will create a Hummer that is handicap accessible. It was with great pride that we announced that Ride With Pride won the McDaniel Innovation Challenge and the prize of a $10k check.

I left the event feeling better about the world. College students are being encouraged to solve the problems they face and are being rewarded for their early efforts. This fosters a mindset necessary for entrepreneurship and incubates tomorrows game-changers. I also felt redeemed from my failure after graduation. I only wish the Innovation Challenge had existed when I walked the hallways of the Hill.

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