UMN students showcase entrepreneurship at Super Bowl startup event

Student and professional entrepreneurs gathered at the event to pitch their businesses to attendees.

The members of Fountane accept their student startup award at the Startup Capital of the North Showcase in McNamara on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

Image by Ananya Mishra

The members of Fountane accept their student startup award at the Startup Capital of the North Showcase in McNamara on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

by Tiffany Bui

University of Minnesota and state startups took the stage at McNamara Alumni Center Tuesday for an event sponsored by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.

The “Startup Capital of the North Showcase,” organized by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, MN Cup and Greater MSP, aimed to showcase Minnesota innovation. The student participation component in the showcase was brought forward by four students in the University’s Carlson School of Management who run a software development business called Fountane.

“We wanted to create an event during Super Bowl week where we could expose how cool we are with all the things we do to all the people in and outside the state,” said Niels Biehler, chief marketing officer of Fountane and chair of the student executive board that helped plan the event.

One of the founders of Fountane approached Maureen Bausch, an executive board member on the host committee, for opportunities to connect with venture capitalists and other startups during Super Bowl week. When the students discovered the committee hadn’t planned such an event, they chose to start their own. 

The showcase opened with presentations from seven past MN Cup winners. MN Cup is a statewide startup competition sponsored by the Carlson School of Management that awards seed money to winners.

Twelve student startups attended the showcase on Tuesday night, where they spoke about their work to an audience of students, faculty, investors and entrepreneurs. 

Throughout the event, guests voted on their favorite businesses in the categories of student exhibition and sports technology. The student exhibition featured a range of startups, all catering to different needs.

SmashIt, a startup that describes itself as “wreckreational destruction,” lets customers safely destroy junk in a cage as entertainment. 

“It’s a really fun business and that’s the value at the core,” SmashIt’s CEO Cody Metz said. Metz added he hopes to rent out his business’s services to University student groups in the future. 

Another student startup, Galileo Chair, designs wheelchairs that improve mobility for people who are quadriplegic. The current prototype of the wheelchair is controlled by a headband that receives input from the user’s head movement to help them navigate.

“We want to bring natural mobility back to every single person,” said Stephen Mylabathula, one of the founders of Galileo Chair. 

Both student startups said the event helped them learn from fellow businesses. 

“By talking to plenty of people there’s a lot of concerns… and some we have been able to address and some we have not been able to address, and so by going through this process we’re able to improve ourselves,” said Furqan Syed, a co-founder of Galileo Chair.

The event closed with an announcement of the startups voted most popular among attendees. 

Fountane, comprised of Carlson students Niels Biehler, Saawan Patel, Aditya Siripragada and Michael Wessels, won the student exhibition. All four students were on the event’s student executive board. 

“We are a startup that’s only one year old, and to be able to achieve this … already is very humbling, first of all, and the community has received us well,” Siripragada said.