The Big Idea Competition has offered students entrepreneurial encouragement through the Turner School of Entrepreneurship for two years.
While the competition saw a pandemic-induced postponement after its first round of initial idea reviewing in February, it continued this semester.
According to Ken Klotz, the Turner school’s managing director, the ideas presented by the five ideas this year include solar panels on patio umbrellas that capture energy to power portable devices; deaf-friendly technology that converts sign language into audio; and a media company that broadcasts local high school athletic games.
Judging for the second round, which consisted of a virtual trade show and elevator pitches through pre-recorded videos, finished on Oct. 8. The third round, entailing presentations of business plans, is scheduled for Nov. 9, after which the judging panel will meet and calculate teams’ final scores, combining scores for their plans and presentations.
Introduced in the 2018 spring semester, the competition allows students and alumni of any major to present entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of judges and potential investors, with the top three finalists receiving cash prizes and free legal services.
Klotz co-founded the competition alongside Bill McDowell, executive and academic director of the Turner School, basing it off a similar competition McDowell founded at a prior university.
Now after 23 years at Bradley, Klotz said he will retire at the end of this semester. He’s had time to look back at his opportunities to help the Bradley community through various avenues, but especially through the competition.
“My enthusiasm for business, and startups in particular, stems from my desire to help others achieve their dreams of business ownership,” Klotz said in an email interview.
While he would also pursue this passion through law for 13 years, his desire for hands-on experience drove him to join Bradley in 1998 as the assistant director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center. He served as the center’s director two years later.
“I was able to teach a class for the first time and discovered that teaching students was more satisfying than anything else I had done,” Klotz said.
Klotz became director of programs at the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship in 2006, providing advice for Central Illinois-based companies, but his most integral Turner-based role came with the building of the entrepreneurship school in 2012.
Klotz was a member of a committee of faculty from each of the university’s schools that designed the Turner School’s structure over two years. He then served as its first managing director, with teaching covering everything from small business management to organizational collaboration and innovation.
“The scope of program offerings has changed through the years, but the mission remains the same: to provide students of all majors with an opportunity to gain entrepreneurial skills both inside and outside the classroom,” Klotz said.
Klotz has taken pleasure in guiding students’ business paths.
For example, he noticed students pitching solutions to social issues that led to the Turner School creating the Social Impact Challenge for ideas that individual, family or community well-being. The competition consists of only two rounds: screenings and presentations. Its second iteration is slated to take place during the upcoming spring semester.
“Sometimes a lifetime of entrepreneurial spark can start with encouragement [as] a student,” Klotz said. “If I can provide a student with encouragement and a belief in themselves and their ideas, I will feel like I have accomplished something positive during my years at Bradley.”