On March 6, the Burgess New Venture Challenge announced its 2020 semifinalists. With 15 student teams selected — representing nine of Michigan State’s academic colleges and the graduate school — competition planning was well underway and participants were ready to compete for a $15,000 top prize.

Then, on March 11, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., declared that MSU would move face-to-face classes to virtual instruction to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. On March 12, the team at the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation — who host, manage and run the event — moved the 2020 competition to the virtual arena, canceling its flagship Wharton Center event.

Challenge is opportunity: The entrepreneurial credo

“Sure, it feels super weird,” said Ken Szymusiak, the Burgess Institute’s managing director of academic programs. “But we’re entrepreneurs. We roll with weird.”

As virtual classes hit their first full week, on March 16, students, faculty and staff across campus worked to find their new normal. BNVC 2020’s cohort of 15 semifinalist teams was no exception.

Amid curricular changes, competitors also faced BNVC’s live event transitioning into a virtual format. Students, who were practicing their pitches to woo judges face-to-face, now had to reconfigure. Their strategies, messages and slide deck scripts needed to charm and impress within the confines of a Zoom meeting.

“Our students’ strength gives me hope,” said Lori Fischer, assistant director of the Burgess Institute. Fischer works closely with every student start-up team that enters the Burgess Institute’s Discovery & Launch Programs.

“Every day, our programs teach students to embrace chaos, find solutions and learn from failure,” she said. “The crisis we face today is an opportunity to reflect good character. Over and over again, our students show us how prepared they are to step up, take risks and face chaos with integrity.”

A broader entrepreneurial ecosystem

The Burgess New Venture Challenge is a fixture on Michigan’s entrepreneurial community’s calendar.

BNVC is about community outreach. It spurs investment interest, connects students with mentorship opportunities with industry professionals and cultivates relationships that, in some cases, can be lightning in a bottle.

“This year’s pivot would’ve been impossible without the willingness and flexibility of alumni mentors to go virtual,” said Paul Jaques, the Burgess Institute’s managing director of venture creation. “Even as they worked through the COVID-19 crisis within their firms, professional roles and families, our judges and sponsors stepped up to model empathetic leadership.”

Robert “Bob” K. Burgess, an accomplished business leader and longtime university adviser, was pleased to see the competition quickly reinvent itself. “During tough times, like we’re experiencing now, it is very uplifting to see the enthusiasm and creativity that the team members brought to the event this year.”

Burgess went on to say that “building Michigan State University’s entrepreneurship program is a continuous labor of love. It’s a privilege to see our students embracing the entrepreneurial mindset, finding success, honing lifelong skills and forging lifelong ties.”

And the winners are . . .

These MSU student start-ups presented their strongest cases to BNVC 2020’s judges and, as a result, took home the top prizes:

1st Place, sponsored by MSUFCU: $15,000 PhenoLogic

2nd Place: $10,000 VEG-N

3rd Place: $5,000 Starforged Studios

“BNVC is more than a competition,” Szymusiak said. “It’s a yearlong undertaking for our start-up teams. It’s an investment of time and talent. At every step, our mission is to create high-quality learning experiences for Spartan entrepreneurs.”

A complete list of Burgess New Venture Challenge 2020 semifinalists:

Brendan Wang, Eli Broad College of Business; Jake Roach, Eli Broad College of Business

Eric Klinefelter, College of Engineering

Erudis Games
Joey Dearing, College of Arts & Letters

Fylm TV
Clay Conover, College of Arts & Letters; Malik Jackson, College of Engineering

Good Mood Food
Brianna Belanger, College of Social Science

GrandStand Music Festival
Kayla Green, College of Music*

Mary Ensch, College of Engineering*; Lexi Rogien, College of Engineering*; Moh Alhaj, College of Engineering*

Amanda Miner, Eli Broad College of Business; Kathryne Rojeck, College of Natural Science; Olivia Miller, Eli Broad College of Business; Jackie Smythe, Eli Broad College of Business

Max Plotnick, Eli Broad College of Business; Michael Monticciolo, College of Engineering

Mohammed Alkharouby, College of Engineering; Aziz Alsaeed, MIS, University of Tampa

Traverse Jurcisin, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources; Josh Murray (Fall 2019), College of Engineering; Jonathan Ristola (Fall 2019), College of Engineering, College of Law*

Picture It
James Hamer, Eli Broad College of Business

Starforged Studios
Rebecca Roman, College of Communication Arts and Sciences; Anthony Froman, College of Engineering

Dajheonna Perry, College of Communication Arts and Sciences

Jonathan Ristola, College of Engineering, College of Law*; Christabelle Dozeman, College of Law*

(*Indicates competitor is a graduate student at Michigan State University.)