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Five UND students advance in startup funding, support program

At UND’s Start-Up Pitch Night, five students are selected for Center for Innovation/Nistler College of Business & Public Administration program

Among the students, staff members and panelists who were part of the Runway Accelerator Program’s Pitch Day event were (from left) Anthony Maher, Jacques Junior Chapusette, Landon Walker, Micah Bruggeman, Koduah Amoako, Toyosi Olola, Oluchukwu Sunday, Mohammed Alsaadi, Center for Innovation Entrepreneurial Coach Sona Lesmeister and Justin Penney. Photo by Haylee Bjork/UND Center for Innovation.

Last month, in a celebration of entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking, the University of North Dakota hosted a pitch event at the Memorial Union. Five students walked away with the promise of mentorship, resources and up to $10,000 each to help them turn their startup ideas from proposals to reality.

The event was part of Runway, a program jointly offered by the UND Center for Innovation and Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. The five students were among eight who presented their potential business ideas at the Dec. 5 event.

All eight had previously taken part in Phase One of the program, which was focused on discovering the best market fit for each student’s innovative idea.

During Phase One, the students answered some of the many questions that innovators and entrepreneurs face. Each student developed a business model, interviewed potential customers and took other steps to help boost the odds of their startup’s success.

The Memorial Union event used panels of reviewers to listen to pitches and help determine which students would advance to Phase Two.

A flagship initiative by UND, Runway is designed to provide a launching pad for student startups, offering resources, mentorship, and funding. The program is led by Sona Lesmeister and Anthony Maher, both of whom work as entrepreneurial coaches at the Center for Innovation.

Runway receives support from the Start-up Fund of the Center for Innovation and Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. As noted above, it is a comprehensive, two-phase initiative that integrates start-up education, mentorship from staff and faculty and networking opportunities with peers and industry experts, and also provides mini-grant funding of up to $10,000 to assist UND student and alumni ventures.

Available throughout the UND academic year and during the summer, Runway is open to all UND students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The Memorial Union buzzed with excitement as students, faculty and industry professionals gathered to witness the culmination of creativity and business savvy that the participants had learned over the semester. The pitches covered a wide number of industries, ranging from mobile video gaming facilities to VR Wheelchair technology. Together, they showcased the multidisciplinary talents of UND’s student body.

One standout pitch came from Micah Bruggeman, a current UND business student, who came up with the business Campus Comfort Rentals. Bruggeman focused his business on the struggles of moving from place to place as a college student. His goal is to make furniture rental and storage easier for students who live far away from UND during the non-academic year.

Through his research, he discovered that long-distance students needed a budget-friendly way to store and move their furniture after the school year. And in describing his idea’s potential during his pitch, Bruggeman – like his fellow entrepreneurs that day – showed an understanding of market needs, a passion for his respective field and an understanding of the potential impact of his venture on the community and beyond.

The panel of judges, comprised of industry experts and faculty members, evaluated the pitches based on criteria such as innovation, market viability and the overall feasibility of each business concept. The atmosphere was charged with anticipation as the judges deliberated on which ventures would secure a spot in Phase 2 of the Runway program.

After careful consideration, the winning pitches were announced, and five students secured their places in the second phase of the program. The students and their businesses are Micah Bruggeman, “Campus Comfort Movers;” Landon Walker, “KiX Golf,” a protective shoe bag design; Isaac Heizelman, VR wheelchair tech; Junior Chapusette, “Rolling Video Games,” a mobile videogaming venue; and Toyosi Olola, creator of “,” an app designed to help immigrants navigate the process of getting a visa.

By gaining entry to Phase 2 of the program, the students have won not only a unique opportunity to further develop their startups, but also access to a network of mentors, investors and resources that likely to help them entrepreneurial journeys.

UND’s commitment to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship was evident at the Memorial Union. The pitch event showcased not only the entrepreneurial talent within the student body, but also the university’s dedication to providing practical support for turning innovative ideas into successful businesses, and the power of education, mentorship and community support in nurturing the next generation of business leaders and innovators.