UW-EC students honored for app idea

Nov. 23—EAU CLAIRE — Flexibility and connection with the community are at the heart of UCo, an app concept recently honored at Eau Claire's annual business jumpstart competition, Startup 48.

And also at the heart of it are UW-Eau Claire students Connor Smith, Leyirabari Gininwa, Alexis Gonzales, Kaitlyn Madole, Kim Sieja, Caden Peterson, Breann Cagle and Clarke Mouw.

The purpose of UCo is to connect community members who want to hire people to complete tasks for them with students interested in flexible part-time jobs, stated the university.

"Students are incredibly busy and on top of their studies, clubs and other organizations, they need to find a way to pay rent, groceries and other expenses," said Smith, a business management and entrepreneurship student from Apple Valley, Minn., in a news release. "Full-time jobs are difficult to hold as a busy student and can cause a ton of stress and pressure."

Similar to Uber, he added, UCo would allow a community member to post a job listing that can be accepted at any time by a college student, allowing students to pick up work that fits into their busy and often-changing schedules.

Gonzales, a business management and entrepreneurship student, told the university the app's strength is that it will help both students and community members.

It's a "connecting platform" that will help community members "get work done faster and cheaper" than they could using other more traditional tools because they can connect with students who are immediately available to do the job, the university stated.

According to the university, the idea behind UCo came to Smith when he was sitting in class and stressing out about his schedule. He had class assignments due and an online quiz to complete, the university stated, as well as lacrosse practice. After that, he still had to work a shift at Menards.

"That's when the idea came to me," Smith says. "I did not know the business' name yet, but I knew that a company that would make it easier for college students to make money could be huge."

From there, Smith brought the idea to Startup 48.

The three-day event for people with business ideas begins with participants making 60-second pitches about their business ideas, the university stated. The 30-plus participants then formed five teams based on the pitches and their interests. Each team worked to create viable business models to meet identified needs.

Local entrepreneurs and industry experts act as mentors throughout the weekend to assist the teams, all with the goal of cultivating new business ideas and leaders in the Eau Claire area, the university explained. Participants include developers, coders, designers, marketers, financiers and business owners as well as college students.

The annual event attracts everyone from experienced entrepreneurs to people who are simply curious about what it would take to start their own business, UW-Eau Claire stated.

Smith told the university that after he and others pitched their ideas, he was fortunate to have "seven amazing UW-Eau Claire students pick my idea and want to grow and start the business."

"Deep down I knew we were going to win," Smith said in the news release. "The team worked extremely hard; we stayed the latest and showed up the earliest."

Ann Rupnow, who coordinates the university's entrepreneurship program and is one of the contest organizers, said she was impressed by UCo team members who "kept an open mind and were willing to pivot" depending on what their research showed them, the university stated.

The team went above and beyond in their interviewing and surveys to determine if their idea would address a community need, she told the university.

"They got over 300 pieces of validating information from people saying they are on to something," Rupnow said. "It's exciting they went that far in their research to get that validation of their idea."

UCo app is still a concept, but Smith hopes to bring it to market soon, the university stated. As the contest winners, the UCo team received a prize package that includes office space and an array of consulting services, such as finance, intellectual property protection and marketing.

The Startup 48 win also qualifies the team to advance to the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament, a statewide pitch competition with prizes of up to $2,500 in startup capital. The competition is open to undergraduate and graduate students attending any two- or four-year UW school except UW-Madison.

The UCo team now has a collaborative workspace in downtown Eau Claire, where they meet "to shape the idea, crunch numbers and get ready to move forward in attracting investors," Smith said. According to the university, they are contacting app developers and looking for other pitch competitions to gain additional funding.

"We're starting to develop the app and make the business come to life," Smith said. "We plan to move forward and never give up on this idea because it's something every college student can benefit from."