Big Idea Challenge supports students’ innovations

Minnesota State’s College of Business held the annual Big Ideas Challenge, a competition between innovative business ideas proposed by students and alums within two years of graduation. 

Administrative coordinator for the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ashley Niss said the Big Ideas Challenge has around 20 applications yearly. Once applications are submitted, ideas are narrowed to six finalists. 

“Finalists then go on to have mentors they’re paired with from the Small Business Development Center,” said Niss. “They have to submit their business plans to us, which ends up being 50% of their score. The other 50% is the live pitch presentation.”

All finalists presented their ideas to judges and attendees during the Big Ideas Challenge event. Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Shane Bowyer, said there are two nominations for the winners: People’s Choice Award and the winner selected by judges. 

Junior Melan Shifa won first place with his innovative platform called Evoli, a platform that allows students to manage various aspects of life, such as academics, work and daily habits.

“It’s a platform for students that would help them manage their life and productivity,” said Shifa. “It will also connect the different parts of a student’s life into one unified line and make things way simpler for students.”

Shifa said he had already started developing the platform and will accelerate the process with the prize money.

“I’m also hoping to build a small marketing contract-based team to build the company’s brand and social media presence,” Shifa said. “I hope to release an MVP early next year for a few users to test and iterate based on feedback.”

The People’s Choice Award went to a junior Muhammad Huzaifa, who developed Flock, a smart lock powered by artificial intelligence. Flock provides secure and convenient access to homes using facial recognition.

“You only need to look at the door to unlock the smart lock and get access to your home,” said Huzaifa. “It is a thing to make it easier for elderly, disabled people and everybody in Minnesota or any place that they want convenience.”

For Huzaifa, Flock started as a research project only after it became a product he wanted to make possible for people to use.

“I have the physical version of the lock and have already done testing on it,” Huzaifa said. “Now I need to get a patent and then create distribution channels. That will be a little time consuming, but the product should be there soon.”

Bowyer said finalists could participate in the Minnesota Cup. This program helps Minnesotans from any field with their innovative ideas.

Bowyer said he believes participating in the Big Ideas Challenge helps students develop many skills. 

“One is assistance in the mentorship because we align participants with a small business development consultant,” said Bowyer. “We also have faculty members who helped participants work on their pitch skills and getting up on stage. They’re learning to work with others and to present in front of an audience.”

Bowyer said the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is open for students all year long. 

“We can align them with mentors or help them through a business plan or advise them as they go, so it’s not just a one-and-done type of thing for the center,” Bowyer said. “We want students to be thinking about their big ideas all year long.”

Header photo: Minnesota State’s College of Business held the annual Big Ideas Challenge, a competition between innovative business ideas proposed by students and alums within two years of graduation. (Nathaniel Tilahun/The Reporter)

Write to Amalia Sharaf at

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