A challenge at the Daniels College of Business gives students a crash course in entrepreneurship

The Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver is giving first-year students a crash course in entrepreneurship, requiring them to split into teams to design a mobile app — and then giving them the chance to present their final product to a panel of potential investors.

In Gateway to Business, a Daniels core class for first-year students, business fundamentals are taught as students go through the process of designing, testing and marketing a mobile phone or tablet application. All Gateway to Business students create a business plan and revenue models for their app, and then present them in class for a grade.

Students who want even higher stakes join an open call to enter the Madden App Challenge. Open to all Gateway to Business students, the competition pits teams against one another to determine who created and presented the best app.

“The opportunity is to not only get your app vetted by angel investors and other people, but you get this experience that you normally wouldn’t get until you’re MBA level, which is presenting in front of high-net-worth individuals and talking about your business ideas,” says lecturer Michael Myers, who teaches the course. “But not really in a ‘Shark Tank,’ shredding kind of way. Nobody cries here.”

Concepts are judged by a panel of seven faculty advisors, who choose the top five groups to send to the final round.

The finalists present their concepts to two panels: a group comprised of entrepreneurs and business executives from a range of fields including software, health care and the oil and gas business; and a group of 12- to 18-year-olds, who better represent the target audience for the apps.

“They introduce all the concepts of business through the app,” says first-year accounting major Rachel Gustafson, a member of the team that won the fall quarter’s Madden Challenge. “It really helps you figure out how business works. You’re learning through doing stuff yourself.”

The competition began in 2012, when John Madden Jr., a local commercial real estate developer, donated $125,000 to fund the competition for five years. The money is used to provide a cash prize to the winners and to help fund marketing and development of the challenge’s top-finishing apps.

The fall quarter’s winning app, designed by Gustafson and fellow first-year students Chance Morelock and Stormer Santana, is PitchMe, a group transaction app that lets roommates or other groups of people transfer money to one another, collectively pay bills and keep track of who owes what.

“I got my first taste of what being an entrepreneur is. It has become an addictive hobby for me now,” Morelock says. “The experience from the Madden Challenge has led me to explore so many different things, businesswise. It was a great introduction to entrepreneurship.”

Other apps submitted in the fall competition included Tags, a program that allows users to assemble hashtags from multiple social media sites into one central location, and NerdNest, an app that aggregates content for “fan girls” of popular-culture movements such as Harry Potter or the Avengers. Another app was designed for victims of domestic abuse, who at the touch of a button can identify their location and notify friends of their situation.

The challenge is beginning to pick up steam. There were 550 students in the class in the fall, and 35 teams chose to attend the fall’s open call. Participants from the winter quarter will have the opportunity to attend the next open call for the Madden App Challenge at the end of spring quarter.

“About 20 percent of our students are not business majors; they just want to come try the course,” says Stephen Haag, a clinical professor in the Daniels College.

As the challenge continues to grow, Myers sees bigger things in the competition’s future.

“I think the Madden Challenge will turn into a competition for everyone in the school,” he says. “It won’t be just freshmen who will take the class. You may not have to take the [Gateway to Business] class to participate, and your business might have nothing to do with a mobile application.

“The whole class really is, ‘Think about your career, and think about the opportunities that you have with an entrepreneurial mindset.’ If you can do that, you will be a happier person. Because everything is changing. It’s cliché, but it’s the truth. And the change is very fast. If you can get used to that now, your career is going to be easier.”

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