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UW-Eau Claire entrepreneurs take 2nd at state business start-up competition

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students Spencer Beard and Bradley Price took second place in the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament (WBIT), a new statewide competition that sought to increase new business start-ups and job creation in Wisconsin by developing more knowledgeable undergraduate entrepreneurs. The competition was held April 5, 2014 at the Pyle Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Beard (Hager City, WI) and Price (Chippewa Falls, WI) used lean startup principles to develop a business model for a health care environment that would allow seniors to remain in their homes and receive the clinical oversight they need.

While both students are health care administration majors in the College of Business, they didn't know each other before the WBIT. It was Tom Mihajlov, UW-Eau Claire College of Business executive-in-residence and WBIT campus coordinator, who brought them together. Mihajlov suggested that the two students work as a team when he saw that their individual business ideas had a common theme.

Beard, who was completing a practicum in a long care facility, saw a need for an alternative, less expensive solution to the long-term care options currently available in the market. Price, who had worked side-by-side in the construction business with his father, an independent general contractor, noticed that many of his dad's elderly customers were asking him to alter their homes to accommodate their changing needs.

"Spencer and I combined our ideas and designed a business model that could provide an alternative solution to long-term healthcare," said Price. "Thinking outside the box, we came up with the idea to use construction and the healthcare technology to provide a healthcare environment in the customer's home." 

While their gut feelings about their business model were positive, Beard and Price used lean startup principles to validate their idea. These concepts, developed by entrepreneurs and authors Eric Ries and Steve Blank, "favor experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition and iterative design over traditional 'big design up front' development." 

"The lean business concept forced us to go out and talk to potential customers early in the process to verify that there was in fact demand for our services," said Beard.

In addition to getting feedback from potential customers, Beard and Price met frequently with Mihajlov to review their progress. The pair also sought advice from Luke Kempen, interim director of the UW-Eau Claire Small Business Development Center.

While they didn't place first at the statewide event in Madison, Beard and Price learned much from the experience.

"The experience allowed us to further develop our interpersonal skills, marketing, and general knowledge of how to start a business," said Price. "The WBIT also gave us the opportunity to network with a variety of different individuals and develop lasting relationships which could further support us into the future."

Now that the WBIT is over, the team is looking into licensing their company.

"Spencer and I would like to pursue this entrepreneurial opportunity," said Price. "We feel that we currently have the support to create a business that can make a large difference in many people's lives."