Unique Headband Biz Tops Entrepreneur Contest

By Mark Fischenich The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Of the 41 would-be entrepreneurs who initially entered the Minnesota State University's Big Ideas Challenge, only four ended up with cash. But each of the seven finalists ended up with mentors, expertise in developing detailed business plans and some valuable practice making a sales pitch to potential funders.

MANKATO

Minnesota State University's Big Ideas Challenge brought out a diverse set of ideas for new products and businesses Monday, but Katie Torgeson's sentiment was widespread among contestants.

"The products we're presenting should already be in the marketplace," Torgeson said.

For Torgeson and entrepreneurial partner Naeemul Hassan, the products involved a set of inventions aimed at boosting the safety of people taking a run or otherwise exercising in secluded settings.

The challenge for them and all of the students and recent MSU graduates in the contest was figuring out how to turn a good concept into a profitable business.

Start-up funding is an inevitable issue, and the 2019 Big Ideas Challenge was offering $15,000 in prize money to the winners.

Of the 41 would-be entrepreneurs who initially entered the contest, only four ended up with cash when winners were announced Monday afternoon. But each of the seven finalists ended up with mentors, expertise in developing detailed business plans and some valuable practice making a sales pitch to potential funders.

"We practiced about 10 hours yesterday," Torgeson said of the presentation made before more than 100 people at Ostrander Auditorium.

"We'll just see where it takes us, I guess," Hassan said.

Torgeson and Hassan were pitching items that would act as a Fitbit-like device while also pinpointing their location, via GPS tracking, to a list of friends, family, even police, in case the owner found himself or herself being stalked by a criminal, attacked by a dog or otherwise in need of help.

For a quartet of engineering students, the proposed new product was an electronic device that combines three or four separate devices that engineers and students in the field need to do their work.

For two others, it was a veggie burger that a proposed website that would offer nutritional options for people looking to boost their health.

None of those proposals won over the judges or the audience at MSU.

Instead, 1st Place went to Maggie Knier and 2True Headbands, a business the junior marketing major started when she was 14 years old. The then-teenager saw a dearth of comfortable headbands on the market and began crafting versions "uniquely designed to stay put all day long."

Already making a profit, Knier -- who still sews all of the headbands herself -- said the $5,000 in prize money would allow her to focus more on her startup business.

"It definitely would help a lot because I'm a college student and I actually work three part-time jobs," she said.

But the assistance with a formal business plan was equally valuable. That wasn't something the 14-year-old Knier had contemplated writing: "I just kind of jumped in with both feet."

With Monday's victory, Knier will be automatically entered as a semifinalist in the Minnesota Cup -- a statewide competition for entrepreneurs that has provided more than $2.9 million in seed money for startup businesses during its 14 years of existence.

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