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Burrill Business Plan Competition fosters student entrepreneurship

April 30, 2013

Photo: Student Chris Meyer at Burrill business plan competition

Chris Meyer (left), a graduate student in mechanical engineering, describes his company proposal to judges during the 2010 G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition.

Photo: Jeff Miller

UW-Madison students will put their entrepreneurial skills to the test Friday in the G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition.

The event, in its 15th year, brings students to the Wisconsin School of Business to compete for more than $27,000 in cash prizes. This year, 65 students — representing 36 majors as diverse as art history, mechanical engineering, physics, and history of science — will compete on 32 teams for the top prize of $10,000. The AARP Foundation will also award a $5,000 prize to a student start-up that meets the needs of an aging population.

The event will be from 7:15 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, May 3 at Grainger Hall, 975 University Ave.

While business plan competitions have popped up across the country, the Burrill competition was one of the first and is devoted only to students, providing a safe space for young entrepreneurs to learn and compete.

Leading up to the competition, students could attend seminars throughout the year on topics such as marketing research, intellectual property management and retailing strategies. On March 1, the groups submitted idea sketches, which were then critiqued by entrepreneurs and other professionals. In order to advance in the competition, the teams submitted a full plan on April 1.

“The number and quality of teams has grown immensely since we started Burrill 15 years ago,” says John Surdyk, the director of the competition. “The event continues to be a training ground for incredible and talented student entrepreneurs from across the UW–Madison campus.”

The teams are split into four categories: advanced manufacturing and innovative products; business software and services; lifestyle services and software; and health care technology and software. The business ideas range from a high-performance prosthetics manufacturer to a farmer’s market delivery service for seniors. After first round presentations in the morning, the top four competitors will present in front of a new set of judges in the afternoon, with the winner announced at the awards ceremony at 5 p.m.

The competition will also feature a keynote speech by serial entrepreneur and UW–Madison alumnus Matt Younkle, whose previous ventures include Laminar Technologies, LLC and more recently His projects have been featured in national news outlets such as USA Today, CNN and National Public Radio. He developed the TurboTap line of beer dispensing products, which was named a top invention by Popular Science and Time Magazine.

—Lavilla Capener