Each year, the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship holds Innovation Quest (iQ), a competition for students to pitch their product ideas to judges and investors in hopes of winning thousands of dollars in cold hard cash.
Since it is one of the more demanding competitions that the CIE offers, students may fear investing their time and energy only to not win in the end. However, past competitors say the value of Innovation Quest isn’t all in the money, but rather it’s in the process of competing.
Sam Hunt, CEO and co-founder of incubator company Armadillo Designs, knows that there’s still much to be gained even if you don’t take home the prize.
“My co-founder and I pitched our idea in Innovation Quest last spring,” he said. “We actually didn’t end up winning that year, but it was still a super valuable experience because we learned how to really craft a pitch in a short amount of time, how to display our product and how not to display it.”
Each student or team in iQ gets the opportunity to develop their innovative ideas from judge and investor feedback, ultimately gaining them the knowledge needed to perfect their pitches and products to find out what they’re lacking and if their idea could be a viable product.
CEO and co-founder of De Oro Devices, Sidney Collin, came out of the competition with a takeaway similar to Hunt’s.
“Any student that’s thinking about starting their own company should definitely apply to Innovation Quest because it allows you to really think through the business strategy,” Collin said. “Even if you don’t win, it’s a really valuable experience to show what needs to be worked on in the company to be able to pursue it further.”
Although winning is not the only source of value for competitors, ending the process with a check can be a game-changer for many.
Past iQ winner Chad Kihm, CEO of GamerSpeak, says the competition is the reason he is a CEO today, as winning the $10,000 second place prize gave him the confidence and finances he needed to pursue his startup idea further. While Kihm says he understands that people might question if competing is worth it, he encourages them to at least try.
“I like to tell people who are thinking about Innovation Quest and are trying to decide how much they should really invest in this sort of competition to think about how long it would take them to make $10,000 working at $15 an hour,” Kihm explained. “If you put at least half as much effort as that into winning it, you’ll probably win the money, and much faster, too.”
Another winning innovation, Flume, went from being a senior project to a growing incubator company thanks to their iQ involvement. The company’s CEO and co-founder Eric Adler says that iQ was the first program the founders took Flume into and that winning the competition lead them to the HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs. He also said that any startup will have several pivots in their business plan and that iQ allowed the Flume team to move in the right direction early on.
“Any time you go apply for a program like Innovation Quest where you talk to investors or meet with advisors, you’re constantly getting feedback,” he explained. “You have people with a lot of expertise giving you feedback and you can take that to potentially change what you’re doing.”
Between critical feedback, pitch experience, momentum, confidence boosts and money, Innovation Quest can do a lot for students looking to pursue their startup ideas. Like Kihm believes, time spent competing in Innovation Quest, regardless of outcome, is never wasted and is worth the potential knowledge and money gain.
Adler even sees a big-picture reason for competing in Innovation Quest.
“If you have a passion for trying something on your own, starting your own company, not working for the man,” Adler started. “it’s great to take an idea and see if you’re really making something innovative that can change the world.”
If you have an innovation that could help change the world, let Innovation Quest help change your world through guidance, support and maybe even financial support. Head to https://cie.calpoly.edu/prepare/innovation-quest/ for more information on how to get involved.