Regional Bobcat Innovation Launch Pad Competition Proves Successful

Oct 2, 2023 8:00 AM

innovation launch pad whole groupRecently, 70 students applied to participate in the regional Bobcat Innovation Launch Pad competition Sept. 22-24 hosted by Frostburg State University in partnership with TEDCO's Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII), Deloitte’s Innovation Lab and the University System of Maryland Launch Fund.

“The Bobcat Innovation Launch Pad was an unqualified success,” said Mr. Al Delia, vice president for Regional Development and Engagement at Frostburg State University. “All students learned a lot about themselves, about working in teams and about how to find innovative ways of solving tough issues.”

This unique program combined the best aspects of a hackathon with those of a business pitch competition and allowed multidisciplinary teams of students to work quickly and collectively to develop business models and technology-based solutions to real world problems.

“Each student was placed on a team, with teammates they just met, to develop a real-world solution to a real-world challenge – in 2 ½ days – and then pitch that commercially-viable idea to a panel of expert judges,” noted Delia. “That is a difficult, pressure-filled test that every student passed with flying colors!”

Dr. Michael Flinn, FSU Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technologies echoed those sentiments. “At the Bobcat Innovation Launch Pad event, we witnessed a diverse array of students from various disciplines and levels brilliantly demonstrating substantial growth in their pitch and communication skills and aptly managing stressors like positive friction.”

The focus of the Bobcat Innovation Launch Pad was on distributed energy resources, virtual power plants, climate change and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors. Student teams were advised and mentored by FSU faculty, staff and subject matter experts, including advisors from Deloitte, as they worked through a variety of problem statements related to the theme.

Over the course of this event, teams were asked to design or build a prototype and create a business plan that they pitched to the audience and the panel of judges. “I really enjoyed watching FSU’s students pitch such fresh and innovative solutions to difficult real world challenges and expect this experience will not only spark their entrepreneurial spirit but show them a path to creating commercially viable technologies,” said Jennifer Walsh, one of the competition judges for the event.

The winning team, Black Diamond, was awarded a cash prize of $2,500 to support further exploration and development of their solution. Members of Black Diamond included Courage Tikum, Robert Knottsill, Stephen Springsteel, Melvin Weeks and Zaniah Kwaw.

“The Bobcat Innovation Launch Pad event was completely different from what I had expected,” said Courage Tikum of Black Diamond. “It was a challenging yet enjoyable experience to be able to work with my team to come up with solutions to real-world problems.” Tikum continued, “We learned how to dig deeper into problems and also realized that failure is the most critical step to success.”

Coming in second was team De-Lite, earning a $1,500 prize. Team De-Lite consisted of Annie Martz, Noah Schlager, Shelby Sanders, Laurence Andrews and Aiden Hemling. Placing third in the event and receiving $1,000 was the Deep Thinkers. Team members included Fernando Vasquez-Carino, Ryan Myers, Tigist Yalew, Abenet Seifu, Junhu Yuan and Ire Maboudou.

“The Launch Pad changed the way I perceive and deconstruct problems, and I’m so much more confident and feel more able to solve problems outside of my comfort zone,” noted De-Lite team member Shelby Sanders.

According to Delia, “With their cash winnings, and with the help of additional resources from FSU, USM, TEDCO's MII and others to guide and support them, these teams now have the opportunity to create a real business.”

Flinn was impressed by all the participating teams, not just those in receipt of funding. “It was a panorama of learning where everyone emerged a winner, enhancing their salary negotiation potentials and adding invaluable layers to their future selves.”

Volunteering their time to serve as competition judges, mentors or subject matter experts included Steven Kennedy, Xinliang Zheng, Dr. Benjamin Norris, Stefanie Boggs, Rebecca Flinn, Jennifer Walsh, Nooh A. Bany Muhammad, Tim Pelesky, Dr. Michael Mathias, Dr. Marc Michael, Zhijiang Chen, Jodi Broadwater, Stacey Wassell, Troy LeMaile-Stovall, Devereaux Milburn, Dr. Michael Flinn and Al Delia. Additionally, thanks go out to Chartwell’s catering service, FSU housekeeping and campus police for their part in ensuring a successful event.