MSUToday
Published: March 30, 2020

Burgess New Venture Challenge pivots in wake of COVID-19

Contact(s): Aaryn Richard MSU Foundation office: 517-884-1561 aarynr@msufoundation.org, Caroline Brooks Communications and Brand Strategy office: 517-432-0920 brooks78@msu.edu

After Michigan State University’s announcement to move in-person classes to virtual learning to keep students safe from the novel coronavirus, the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation decided to move its 2020 competition – the Burgess New Venture Challenge – to the virtual arena, canceling its flagship Wharton Center event.

"Our students' strength gives me hope," said Lori Fischer, assistant director of the Burgess Institute. "Every day, our programs teach students to embrace chaos, find solutions and learn from failure. 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."

Congratulations to 2020's Burgess New Venture Challenge Winners! from MSU Burgess Institute on Vimeo.

Amid curricular changes, the Burgess New Venture Challenge, or BNVC, competitors were also charged to transition to a virtual format. Students, who were practicing their pitches to be face-to-face before judges, now had to reconfigure. Their strategies, messages and slide deck scripts needed to translate to the confines of a Zoom chatroom.

"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."

The BNVC is a fixture on Michigan's entrepreneurial community's calendar. It spurs investment interest, connects students with mentorship opportunities with industry professionals and cultivates relationships that, in some cases, can be “lighting in a bottle.”

"This year's pivot would have 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 alumnus of the Eli Broad College of Business, 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 said. "Building MSU’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."

The BNVC announced its 2020 semifinalists – whose ventures were competing for $42,000 in total prizes – in early March. The semifinalists included 15 student teams that represented nine colleges and the graduate school.

These MSU student startups presented their strongest cases to BNVC2020'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," said Ken Szymusiak, "It's a yearlong undertaking for our startup teams. It's an investment of time and talent. At every step, our mission is to create high-quality learning experiences for Spartan entrepreneurs."