University of Northern Iowa

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Empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.

Student Success at Startup Competition in Kansas City

Posted on Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

Maddie Palmersheim and Robert Sales, both UNI student entrepreneurs, attended this year’s Techstars Startup Weekend in Kansas City from September 20-22. The Techstars Startup Weekend is an immersive startup experience focused on hardware and product design that challenges teams to get feedback, make changes, and stay open to the idea of pivoting if a plan fails.

The two paired up with Kansas University Student, Bailey Batcheller, and worked as a team to create a brand new business idea. The idea that the team settled on was to create eye contact containers that were healthier for the environment.

The team worked hard for two days and then had the opportunity to pitch their idea. After presenting the contact containers to the panel of judges during the final presentations, the team was declared the winner.

Their winning idea, EcoEye, was first pitched to everyone at the event on night one by Maddie. EcoEye was created with the intent of a company who would solve the mass amount of waste produced from plastic contact lens containers by using an alternative raw material. Maddie’s pitch was voted into the top 10 by the attendees which meant that a team would form to present this idea in front of a panel for a hopeful first-place finish.

This experience for our two entrepreneurs brought many challenges including limited time, coming up with new ideas, and the overall feeling of frustration at times. Through challenges like these, we often do see ourselves growing and learning with the process, and that is exactly what Rob and Maddie did. When asked with the question of what they learned from the weekend in Kansas City they both had similar but also very different responses. Rob had replied, “I think the biggest thing I learned from my experience at KC Startup Weekend was my desire for a serial entrepreneur mindset.” While Maddie said, “Through the challenges faced, I learned how I operate in the face of doubt, competition, and a fast-moving clock.”

Although there were many challenges, they also had a lot of great moments and made many memories. Their team was the smallest and youngest team there with a large idea that was outside of their fields of study, but Maddie said that her favorite part was on late Saturday evening when they hit a breakthrough after being told all day by mentors that they wouldn’t find a solution or gather enough information for their idea. Similarly, Rob’s most memorable moment was also Saturday when their numbers started coming together, their answers to their perceived questions had been answered, and they collectively realized that they were going to win. 

This was such a great experience for our very own student entrepreneurs to participate in. Along with Maddie and Rob, four other students also went to Kansas City to participate in Startup Weekend. Ryan Falk, Ross Vande Voort, Matt Zilley, and Jayden Moore all took part in this wonderful event.

Ryan Falk and his team had a great presentation and they took home 3rd place with his idea, QuePlay. QuePlay is a coin-free option to playing Billiards. We hope this is something that our future student entrepreneurs take part in annually for the great learning experience that comes with it.                                       

Rob and Maddie's Team             Ryan Falk and Team