A Zillion Solutions: Pitching Entrepreneurial Solutions at UM-Flint

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by Kristen Minerva

A tool that restrings a guitar. A gel coating for helmets that reduces concussion. A device that helps people with shoulder injuries sleep better.

These and dozens of other inventive ideas were brewed in the minds of students at the University of Michigan-Flint as part of A Zillion Solutions pitch competition. Students from all majors were eligible to enter the competition, which required them to craft a two-minute concept video outlining a potential solution to a problem. Participants had the opportunity to pitch at the awards ceremony—and a chance to go home with cash prizes.

Inspired by 1000 Pitches, an entrepreneurship competition from MPowered (a student entrepreneurship organization at UM-Ann Arbor), A Zillion Solutions asked students to submit an idea in up to three of the following categories: Art, Flint Revitalization, Engineering & Inventions, Green Solutions, Health, Mobile Apps, Product/Service Innovation, Social Media Solutions, Tech & Web, and University Improvement. Judges selected winners for each of the 10 categories, each of whom became eligible to compete at the ceremony.

The first prize went to SafeWalk, a mobile app that suggests the safest walking route based on data about distance, crime, and lighting. Student participants Bruce Tsogbadrakh and Eric Batsaikhan were recognized at the ceremony for their work and claimed the first-place prize.

Student participant Emily Williams won the second-place prize as well as the fan-favorite award for her invention, EZ Bath. Emily employed the help of her Jack Russell Terrier, Zoe, in order to demonstrate how to make bathing dogs an easier task.

The event was sponsored by the Hagerman Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, a program that serves to advance the entrepreneurial ecosystem at UM-Flint. Established in 2015 through the School of Management (SOM), the Hagerman Center has jump-started multiple entrepreneurship-based opportunities for students, including a summer camp, a business pitch competition, and a speaker series, among others. Students can elect to take SOM classes that count toward a minor in entrepreneurship or the newly established entrepreneurship major; they can also join and participate in the award-winning Entrepreneurship Club.

Hagerman Center director Mark Simon emphasized the importance of supporting the entrepreneurial community at Flint, saying it is “unquestionably one of the most valuable parts of the ecosystem.” Thanks to the generosity of donors like Phil and Jocelyn Hagerman, whose contributions helped create SOM’s Hagerman Center, and Steven Whitener, who helped fund many scholarships, students at UM-Flint have access to opportunities, programs, and organizations that have the potential to change lives. A Zillion Solutions is one small but powerful example of the kinds of opportunities that UM-Flint has to offer.

The competition empowered Bruce, Eric, Emily, and the other student participants to get a tangible sense of how impactful their thoughts and ideas could be, and to take the first step in translating their dreams and ideas into reality.