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Four computer-science business ideas win, and one already has customers

April 12, 2018 By David Tenenbaum

Contestants, judges, and organizers posed at the ninth NEST competition April 6, 2018. UW-Madison Department of Computer Science

Four projects created by computer-science students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison won a total of $12,000 in prizes in the computer science department’s NEST competition on April 6.

“I’m excited for two reasons,” said organizer Jignesh Patel, professor of computer science. “The first-prize winner, Moonshot Learning, already has made sales – indicating that it’s answering a real need in the marketplace. And second, two of the four winners were headed by women, who have been traditionally under-represented in our field.”

For the first time, the business accelerator Gener8tor was involved in helping contestants develop their ideas into compelling entries. Twelve groups of UW–Madison students entered the ninth annual competition called NEST, short for “Nest for emerging software technologies.”

  • First Prize ($5,000):Moonshot Learning, provides a vetted talent pipeline for employers.
  • Second Prize ($3,000):Whisper to Me, offers a block-chain verified means to deliver individualized, verified music. “It’s like Bitcoin for your ears,” says Patel, referring to the electronic money based on a software technology called a block chain.
  • Third Prize ($2,000):EnerGyan, designed to teach the principles of energy through hands-on experience with a suitcase-sized laboratory.
  • Wisconsin IdeaPrize ($2,000): Womentor is a women-only program to encourage mentor-mentee engagement, particularly in computer science.

Competitions that encourage entrepreneurship are fundamental to economic and social progress in Wisconsin, says Patel.

“If you look at every sector of our society and economy, even if it seems remote from technology, you can see it’s being dramatically influenced by technology. Education? You can’t go into a class without seeing at least three categories of computer devices. Even when people study ancient arts and languages, computers play a crucial role. Or look at retail, finance, transportation, manufacturing and health — all are profoundly being transformed by technology. And one of the most efficient ways to bring technology into society is through the entrepreneurial route, as was demonstrated by these great UW–Madison students.”

The contest was sponsored by Epic Systems, Microsoft, and an anonymous UW–Madison computer-science alum, who generously funded assistance from the Gener8tor accelerator. The contest was judged by Carl Dvorak of Epic, Max Lynch from Ionic software, and Andy Walker from Rock River Capital.