Sustainable Venture Challenge deemed a success


Forty-four FHSU students representing ten countries and multiple degree programs competed in the first sustainability-themed entrepreneurial competition. The EPI²C Challenge was formerly known as Kansas Startup Weekend, a competition held annually at FHSU since 2011.

“Sustainability is very important to these students,” said Henry Schwaller, instructor in the department of management. “It’s their future.”

He said students find greater relevancy in experiential learning and that the value of hands-on learning cannot be underestimated. Schwaller also pointed out that a spirit of cooperation is one of the strengths of FHSU. The smaller size of the university allows people from different departments to work together to innovate and create new synergies.

Historically, the challenge has been held in November because global entrepreneurship week is that same month. In addition, International Student Week activities were set for the same week as the challenge. Many of the EPI²C competitors were international students. 

“They all learn so much about other cultures, other perspectives. When you have teams that are so diverse, the ideas are much better,” Schwaller said.

For Brittni Day, whose team’s project Innovia Construction, 3D printed affordable housing, won first place and a $5,000 award, collaboration was critical to the project’s success. The team members included Day, Alicia Feyerherm, Caitlin Leiker, Allison Mattke, Tanner Miller, and Max Weimer.

“I came to realize that there is a big difference between trying to expand on our own ideas in a vacuum, and expanding on ideas that have been compounded, layer by layer, from the minds of multiple people,” Day, an online student, said. “Throughout the course of the weekend, I found that I’m much more likely to take calculated risks when I have the support of a team, which ultimately leads to greater innovation.

Nuria Garcia, whose team’s project UPpreciate, upcycled student residence hall room furnishings, won second place and a $2,500 award, said the EPI²C challenge was an “intense” weekend.

“One of the most important things I learned was about timing and communication since we had to do everything quicker than usual with colleagues we had never worked with before,” she said. “Communication on a team has to be fluent to know what everyone is doing at any time and taking all the opinions into consideration.”

Other members of UPpreciate included: Luciana Mendoza, Lincoln Myers, and Chelsie Rose.

Some of the projects shown at the competition are slated for real-world implementation.

The UPpreciate business plan sells its products to students through an Instagram account. According to Garcia, launching the plan this way allows the team to test the market to see how to move the business further. 

Innovia Construction, which uses sustainable elements in the design of its homes, such as solar panels, LED light fixtures, and triple-pane windows, hopes to meet with Grow Hays in the future to discuss the implementation of its plan as a business in Hays. 

“Our team is passionate about enhancing the growth of our community, and we firmly believe that our ideas have the potential to solve the greatest problems contributing to the housing crisis that has been plaguing Hays for years,” Day said.

Placing third in the competition was Relle, sustainable clothing. The group was comprised of Diana Angarita, Irina Alfonso, Mohamed Didi, Fiorella Mendez, and Safie Senghor. 

The idea of sustainable clothing focused on producing clothes with environmentally friendly materials for multi-wear. 

“The prototype for our project was ideal because not only is it made from a sustainable source, but it also helps reduce fashion waste since you would be able to wear the item in up to five different ways,” Angarita said. “We worked extremely hard all weekend to bring to life this brand-new idea that our teammate, Fiorella, had just suggested at the beginning of the weekend. It was an amazing experience, and I would love to do it again.”

The Founder’s Prize went to Foenix Jewelry, jewelry crafted from recycled metals. Group members included Maria Diaz, Shelbie Ford, Jacob George, Brandon Hipp, Austin Kastler, and Samuel Princ.

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