Bright idea wins U business contest

JP Leider

Chances are most people will have an innovative idea for an invention at some point.

But innovation isn’t always enough to get the product to market.

That’s where the Minnesota Cup comes in, said Scott Litman, program co-chairman and a judge in the competition.

Litman and co-chairman Dan Mallin, both University alumni, created the Minnesota Cup to find the person or company with the most innovative business idea.

The University, the state government and private businesses sponsored the event.

A reception followed Thursday’s judging at the McNamara Alumni Center where the winning idea was announced – a low-cost alternative to connecting to high-speed, fiber optic networks.

Optical fibers are thinner than a human hair and transmit information via light pulses.

“It’s great validation,” said David Emmons of Arcswitch, the winning company.

His business partner, John Berger, concurred.

He said it’s difficult to know what others will think “when you’re working in your parent’s basement by yourself for two years.”

Both said they were thrilled with winning the Minnesota Cup.

But since they work full-time jobs, what’s next is a little unclear, Berger said.

“We’ve got to raise some capital,” Emmons said.

And winning the grand prize puts them well on their way.

For taking the competition, Berger and Emmons will receive $25,000 and ongoing support services from sponsors.

PICC STAT, a St. Paul company that presented a new intravenous system for hospital patients, took the $5,000 second place and will receive some ongoing support as well.

“It’s like our Superbowl,” said PICC STAT founder Paul Kozlicki of the Minnesota Cup.

For Kozlicki, the competition was all about getting in front of the “movers and shakers” in Minnesota business.

Type 1 Tools, a company promoting a set of diabetes educational tools, was awarded $2,500 in capital and third place.

University President Bob Bruininks spoke at the event and stressed the importance of the University’s relationships with innovative ideas.

He said that growing, nurturing, applying and transferring ideas are a top priority for the University.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced the statewide competition in March, where more than 600 hopefuls submitted their ideas online.

Semifinalists submitted business plans for the next stage of the competition and the field was whittled to the final five.

Speakers at Thursday’s presentation touted it as the “first annual Minnesota Cup,” suggesting it will return.

“My hope is that the Minnesota Cup will become a long-term program that is a catalyst for (an entrepreneur) to launch their business,” Litman said.