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Big idea pays off for grad

A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate is among 12 UW System faculty, staff, students and affiliated companies selected to receive up to $25,000 each through the Ideadvance Seed Fund, which provides support for entrepreneurs as they evaluate product or service ideas, explore key markets, validate demand and develop strategies for investment sources.

Kory Peterson, a 2014 management graduate with an entrepreneurship emphasis from Eau Claire, received a $25,000 grant for his business idea, CSA Pros. The grant, awarded by UW-Extension, also provides business mentoring to help develop a strategic business model for ideas and technologies generated at UW campuses. UW System and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. created the $2 million seed fund, which launched in February. Teams that complete this first stage of Ideadvance activities will be eligible for stage 2 funding, which offers grants up to $50,000.

The Ideadvance grant will allow Peterson to continue developing his business concept, which helps customers monitor and sustain the life of their vehicles. Peterson came up with idea of creating sensors that monitor key aspects of a vehicle from engine to body. The strategically placed sensors will relay information to owners' smartphones giving them a diagnostic reading and suggesting work that needs to be done to resolve any issues.

"I have restored both a 1970 and 1973 Dodge Challenger," Peterson said. "I know the hours and hard work it takes to do a complete restoration of a vehicle, and I wanted something to help keep the car in top shape. There is nothing out there like this, so I continued building on the idea. Owners want to keep their cars as nice as they can for as long as they can, and this is where CSA Pros can help."

Peterson worked with Dr. Todd Hostager, a professor of management at UW-Eau Claire, on refining the applications and implications of his business idea.

"Kory is one of the most humble, intelligent and hardworking individuals I have known in the 26 years I have worked at UW-Eau Claire," Hostager said. "He is a living example of how we as faculty members can make a difference by helping our students channel their knowledge and abilities in the service of realizing their dreams, while at the same time substantively contributing to the economic development of the region by creating new products and services yielding jobs and other tangible benefits for the area."

The Ideadvance grant fills a crucial gap in helping students and faculty take the next logical steps in developing their new business ideas, Hostager said.

"For example, the funding supports critical activities associated with refining ideas through valuable feedback obtained from potential customers via face-to-face interviews and online surveys," Hostager said. "Moreover, the funding covers key startup activities including patent searches, trademark searches, competitive analyses, prototype development and more. On a broader scale, this grant helps open important doors for Kory and the other grant recipients; doors that otherwise would have remained closed due in no small part to the difficulties involved in finding seed funding."

The next step in Peterson's business development is to fine-tune his idea into a more narrowly focused concept so design for a testable prototype can begin.

"Receiving this award means that all of the hard work and time that has been put into this idea is paying off," Peterson said. "This wouldn't have been possible without the help of Dr. Hostager. He is a true mentor, professor and friend I was very fortunate to meet."

Before applying to the Ideadvance program, Peterson also submitted his CSA Pros idea to the Wisconsin Big Ideas Tournament and the 2013 SAP Connected Car contest sponsored by Chevrolet, where he was runner-up out of more than 3,000 global teams.

Peterson worked with Thomas Mihajlov, an executive in residence in accounting and finance, and Cindy Hofacker, a senior lecturer in business communication, on refining his proposal and business plan presentation for the Wisconsin Big Ideas Tournament.

"Professor Mihajlov's mentoring helped me generate a real-life business style to get investors interested in my company," Peterson said. "In addition, Professor Hofacker helped me make my presentation for the tournament. I am grateful for the time she spent helping me fine-tune my PowerPoint slides."

Peterson possesses a fantastic work ethic, Mihajlov said, and his dedication to developing his business idea is remarkable.

"Kory demonstrates one of the fundamentals of entrepreneurism; with every great idea comes the question, 'How did this start?' For Kory, it started with his love of automobiles and the fact he likes to tinker with cars, their parts and what makes them work better. Out of this comes knowledge, and from knowledge comes the idea, and from the idea comes a better way of doing something. Trace the history of major inventions, and you will find the same pattern. I can easily envision Kory with a successful business in the future."

The UW-Extension's Division of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development is opening another stage 1 funding round. For more information, call 608-263-3315.