Screenshot of CAS Student: Alyssa Norris Video Submission

The Entrepreneurial Spirit was in full force during the UM-Flint Zillion Solutions Competition

Zillion Solutions recently ended their idea competition at the end of the winter 2021 semester which had a huge turnout. There were 495 ideas submitted to the Hagerman Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation by UM-Flint students. In the previous year, the Hagerman Center received 346 submissions. 

Zillion Solutions is a campus-wide competition where students make a short video or Powerpoint describing their unique idea for a new product or service that will solve a problem.

One of the major ways the Hagerman Center increases the UM-Flint community members’ general interest and awareness of entrepreneurial activities is through the annual idea competition, but also through workshops, networking, programs, and events. 

The 2020/21 Zillion Solutions was revamped due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the center had to rethink all angles of how to promote the competition to students in the new virtual environment. 

“Marketing and promotions was a huge headache at first,” said Dr. Mark Simon, Hagerman Center Director and Hagerman Endowed Professor of Entrepreneurship, “A lot of things were up in the air with COVID regulations and the stress and anxiety students felt from the pandemic and returning back for school in the fall.”

As the Fall 2020 semester was approaching, the Hagerman Center team knew they would be facing many unknowns in planning logistics for a major competition, but they didn’t want it to be a wash of a year. 

Zillion Solutions officially kicked off the campus-wide competition for submissions from graduate and undergraduate students of all majors, including undecided majors and Deep/Early College students, on October 1, 2020. 

The Hagerman Center team was made up of entrepreneurial-focused students and Hagerman Center Director, Mark Simon, Ph.D. and Associate Director of the Hagerman Center and Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Management, Brian Blume, Ph.D.

The UM-Flint students on the planning team were Erik Johnson, BBA ‘23 in International Business and OBHRM ‘23 as the Lead Project Coordinator, Alexis Menard, BBA ‘21 in Marketing and OBHRM, Angela Longbucco, BBA ‘21 in International Business and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, Trevor Bennett, BBA ‘21 in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, Neil Kagerer, BA in Sociology and Minor in Entrepreneurship ‘21, Tim McGlinchey BBA ‘21 in Accounting and Finance, and Sumer Wascher, BBA ‘21 in Marketing. 

The team also had help from Madeline Rasberry, BSN ‘21, a student serving as the first-ever Student Ambassador representing the School of Nursing that advocated for Zillion Solutions in her cohort and to SON students. Rasberry was also the $2,000 grand prize winner of Zillion Solutions in 2019 and used her expertise to help mentor her peers.  

“It was a team effort. We were also able to get support across campus from staff and faculty members. They are the ones that also made this year a success by talking about Zillion Solutions in their virtual classrooms or posting about it on Blackboard,” said Simon. 

One of the ways the Hagerman Center team further developed the competition was to expand submission requirements. In the past, students would have to make a short video under two minutes that describes their unique idea for a new product or service that will solve a problem. The submission requirements were changed to allow Powerpoint presentations to lower the barriers of entry for students. 

“This change to our submission process made it a lot easier for students to participate and avoided the discomfort some students feel when recording themselves. This process also made it easier for students to submit multiple ideas,” Simon continued, “Students started to realize there were problems all around them that they could solve. It sparked more entrepreneurial thinking. We would talk to a student about the competition and their original idea and then next week get an email that they are submitting another idea.”

The biggest increase in participation was seen in Early College and Dual Enrollment Educational Partnerships (DEEP). Erik Johnson facilitated more than a dozen virtual workshops on Zoom with dual enrolled students to help fine tune their ideas and walk them through the submission process.

“The main issue was that students didn’t know how to get started. We created a Powerpoint template that included everything we were looking for such as stating the problem, giving examples of existing solutions, and how their solution clearly solves the problem,” Johnson said. 

“We received a lot of great comments on the process and looking back at this year, these [high school] students have been through a lot. Zillion Solutions was an outlet for them to be creative,” Johnson continued, “I’m delighted that we were able to have such a successful year and impact so many students.”

The 2020/21 Zillion Solutions competition was sponsored by the Mott Foundation and supported 53 awards ranging from $100 to $2,000. It also supported the daily operations of the center and smaller prize incentives to students.  

The Zillion Solutions Virtual Award Ceremony took place on April 7th where nine finalists from each academic unit, undecided student category, and early college/DEEP, went head to head to compete for four prizes additional prizes; $2,000 – Grand Prize, $1,000 – 1st Runner up, $500 – 2nd Runner up, $500 – Fan Favorite Award. The following students were recognized at the ceremony:

Semifinalists

  • Jamie Beebe, CAS-Arts & Humanities
  • Meredith Sheatzley, CAS-Arts & Humanities and Jessica Nadrowski, SEHS
  • Ryelle Conley-Dankert, CAS-Social Sciences 
  • Katelyn Stuck, CAS-Social Sciences
  • Lancine Doumbia, CAS-STEM
  • Olusola Atoyebi, CAS-STEM
  • Felicia Baldassare, CHS
  • Scott Maki, CHS
  • Kennedy Lyons, DEEP/EC
  • Rameira Davis, DEEP/EC
  • Jillian Stieb SEHS,
  • Sherrion Peyton, Renee Stachowiak, Brian Donovan, and Cornel Lynch, SEHS
  • Katelynn Walter, SOM
  • Jacob Ross, SOM
  • Tiffany Schlegel, SON
  • Megan Snyder, SON

Finalist & University Wide Awards:

  • Alyssa Norris – Sustainability Store, CAS-Arts & Humanities Finalist and Fan Favorite Award
  • Elizabeth Warden – The Senior Picture Project, CAS-Social Sciences: Finalist
  • Alyshia Fkye-Jolly – O2 Tube, CAS-STEM Finalist
  • Quinn Hanses – Adaptive Equipment Lending Library, CHS Finalist
  • Lillian Longdrigian – Volunteer Program for Spanish Speakers, DEEP/EC Finalist
  • Meghan Bobrowski – Multisensory Children’s Books, SEHS Finalist
  • Mark Miller – Ventilator Disconnection Identification Device, SOM Finalist and 1st Runner Up
  • Stephen Downs – IV Access Stabilization Tray (IVAST), SON Finalist and Grand Prize Winner
  • Evan Johnson – The Love Button, Undecided Finalist and 2nd Runner Up

“This was our biggest year yet and we are already laying down the foundation for the fall 2021/2022 academic year competition. We want to encourage entrepreneurial thinking when they aren’t in the classroom, so students that are currently enrolled in spring/summer courses or will be enrolled in the fall semester can submit their ideas to Zillion Solutions over the summer,” said Simon. 

“If you have an idea at any point during the year, you want to submit to Zillion Solutions, you don’t have to wait! We are here if you need help,” said Simon. 

The center is planning in-person events in the fall focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation and will be helping students with their Zillion Solutions submission online or with in-person office hours.  

For more details go to https://www.umflint.edu/som/hagerman-center/zillion-solutions/  and contact the Hagerman Center at hagermancenter@umich.edu.

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About ALEXIS MENARD

Alexis Menard joined the School of Management in April 2018 as the Web & Social Media Assistant. She is a senior standing Business Administration undergraduate student at the University of Michigan-Flint pursuing a double major in OBHRM and Marketing.