Big Ideas Challenge brings out the best in business

Students applied the Minnesota State mission “Big Ideas. Real World Thinking” as six finalists took to the stage as a part of the Big Ideas Challenge Wednesday afternoon. 

Administered through the College of Business, the Big Ideas Challenge is a competition where students and alumni within two years of graduating can submit their business ideas for projects, services or organizations. Over $18,000 were distributed to use as funds for their business. 

The categories were split into food and agriculture, high-tech division and an open category for miscellaneous ideas. Students were judged upon their business and marketing plan — which they submitted to the judges a week ahead of time — and how their pitch came across.

The winner was Zach Finholdt for Fin’s Finest Labs, an app for diagnosing disease in animals while assisting in finding solutions to treat them. With $8,000, Finholdt said he’s going to stow the money away for now. 

“I want to see what happens and hopefully take the business around Owatonna,” Finholdt said. 

Second place went to LouieLabs, a subscription box of STEM-based projects for those with visual impairments. Third place and the People’s Choice award went to 2022 graduate Brady Barr for Allergy Aware, an app that allows users to preview menus and identify potential food-allergy issues.

Barr said he plans to use his $4,000 prize to begin working on the app and hire workers right away.

“We don’t know how to write it all down and keep track of everything, so we’re gonna pay someone to do that. We’ll probably try to get more funding and create the app,” Barr said. 

Barr said his idea was in the making for two years before he decided to apply. 

“I’ve been a little shaky for the last three months but I’m glad to be done with the speech part and that I’ve won some money,” Barr said. 

Director for the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Shane Bowyer said the Big Ideas Challenge has grown the past eight years, specifically in the high-tech division. 

“Apps weren’t real big eight years ago and you saw a different type of entrepreneur. The technology is really playing a factor into a lot of these,” Bowyer said.

Bowyer said events like this are important to host at MSU because it helps with their funding and the skills needed to pitch business plans. 

“It shows all the other students in the audience that might someday say, ‘I want to be up there’ or ‘I can run a business five years from now’ or keep it in the back of their mind,” Bowyer said.

Barr said students should get involved with the Big Ideas Challenge because it allows students to put themselves out there.

“It just shows that people in the community want to give money to people that will go ahead and make businesses or have cool ideas,” Barr said. “It makes me think the people in the audience think there are good ideas to have.”

Header photo: Zach Finholdt (left) accepts his first place prize in the Big Ideas Challenge from Dean Brenda Flannery for his business, Fin’s Finest Labs. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)

Write to Emma Johnson at

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