Eight Minutes. $3,000.

Eight minutes. $3,000.

That’s pretty much what it boiled down to last week when MiddChallenge gave 17 student groups a very brief opportunity to explain why their business, outreach, or arts venture deserved one of its six cash awards.

logoMiddChallenge, part of the College’s Project on Creativity and Innovation (PCI), is a student-driven annual event that encourages other students to pitch ideas for projects or businesses that can solve problems or enhance society in some way.

Basically you apply, prepare an eight-minute presentation (often with the help of a mentor), make your pitch to a panel of professionals who volunteer their time as judges, and find out whether you’ve won—all over the course of one week.

The winners then spend the summer implementing their projects, and the only follow-up requirement is that each of them must submit a written reflection of the process.

It’s a highly efficient and fast-paced way to get start-up funding for an idea—and then put that idea to the test. And, as Liz Robinson, director of the Project on Innovation in the Liberal Arts, points out, “It’s really less about the ultimate success of a particular project and more about the process—the people who mentor these students and the things they learn along the way.”

And they learn a lot. PCI makes available to all the students a stream of valuable resources—from professional mentors who help with presentations and business plans to opportunities for additional funding from other PCI programs such as MiddStart, PCI’s microphilanthropy network.

The student committee—energetically made up of Joanie Thompson ’14, AJ Guff ’13.5, Kate Robinson ’16, Logan Randolph ’14, Will Potter ’14.5, Hannah Bristol ’14.5, and Olivia Tabah ’16—received 37 applications and, practically overnight, narrowed it down to the 17 who were invited to make presentation pitches in one of the three categories: Business; Education, Outreach, and Policy; and Arts.

“It’s a huge time commitment,” said Liz Robinson, “but they take it very seriously.”

The students invite the judges from the professional community, create the criteria for judging, and organize and introduce the student presenters. The 11 judges included young entrepreneurs Chris Eaton ’99, Eliza Eaton ’05, and Corinne Prevot ’13, as well as former Vermont governor Jim Douglas ’72, widely experienced businessman Charlie MacCormack ’63, and the director of the Vermont Women’s Fund Catherine Kalkstein, among others.

The whole event, which took place over two days in Axinn, held an air of professionalism and pragmatism. These were not pie-in-the-sky ideas, but well-thought-out ventures that would in some concrete way add to our society and address an immediate need. Students presented detailed implementation plans and proposed budgets. Several of the groups included first-years and sophomores who were as articulate and poised as their senior peers in presenting and discussing their goals.

This year’s winners include the development of a new method for managing the invasive Eurasian milfoil in waters across Vermont using a patented process called MiddFoil®; Uncle B’s Firenuts, a spicy snack food that a student started last year in a Middlebury Entrepreneurs class and wants to expand this summer; two food-related projects: Share the Surplus, which will deliver untouched and leftover dining hall food to local communities, and Middlebury Foods, which will provide low-cost and highly nutritious grocery items to people who don’t have access to grocery stores; a creative mixed-genre film about the Los Angeles music collective WEDIDIT; and a multimedia narrative featuring stories from people who have experienced bullying in New England schools. For a complete list of the winners, as well as the groups of students involved, see below.

MiddChallenge 2013 Winners:
Uncle B’s Firenuts
Ben Stasiuk ’14

Uncle B’s Firenuts is a spicy nut snack, based on a recipe developed by Stasiuk’s Uncle Bill, that blends the intense heat of homegrown heirloom hot peppers with the flavors of bourbon and wood smoke. Stasiuk started a business selling Firenuts through the Middlebury Entrepreneurs course last January and hopes to expand the family business over the summer.

Integrated Milfoil Management
Austin Ritter ’13, Greg Dier ’13, with Samuel Carlson ’10, Professor of Biology Sallie Sheldon, Meghan Short

Waterbodies across North America are threatened by Eurasian milfoil, an invasive plant that inhibits recreation, lowers property values, and decreases native species diversity in its surroundings. In the 1990s, Professor Sheldon discovered a native insect that selectively feeds on the milfoil plant. She developed the MiddFoil®  process to efficiently grow and distribute this insect. After a decade of research has shown the MiddFoil® process to be a safe and effective method for providing lasting milfoil control, Integrated Milfoil Management intends to bring the MiddFoil® technology to waterbodies in Vermont.

Education, Outreach & Policy:
Share the Surplus
Cailey Cron ’14, Molly Shane ’14

Addison County is home to nearly 4,000 food-insecure people while Middlebury College dining system produces 300 tons of food waste a year, a portion of which is untouched and servable. In collaboration with Dining Services, Share the Surplus will collect excess prepared food from the dining halls and make it available to local people in need.

Middlebury Foods
Nathan Weil ’15, Harry Zieve Cohen ’15, Chris Kennedy ’15, Jack Cookson ’15, Oliver Mayers ’15, Elias Gilman ’15, Eduardo Danino-Beck ’15

Through Middlebury Foods, Vermonters will be able to purchase supermarket-quality food at fast-food prices. High-quality meats and vegetables will be bundled in food boxes and sold at local delivery sites including churches and community organizations. Each box provides a week’s worth of affordable and nutritious food for approximately $1.50 per meal by eliminating overhead costs and piggy-backing on the established purchasing power and infrastructure of Middlebury College.

Moss Turpan ’14, Dylan Redford ’14

The project is a mixed documentary/fiction film about WEDIDIT, a collective of electronic musicians based in Los Angeles and one of the few in which members collaborate on work but release music individually. The film will explore the unique collaborative creative process and will employ documentary language to investigate the creative process of the artists and fictional language to represent the emotional experience of the music.

War at Home(room)
Aidesha-Kiya Vega-Hutchens ’14, Jun Chen ’14

The War at Home(room) project will compile oral histories of bullying in New England school systems. The coordinators will travel throughout the region documenting how these experiences follow people over the course of their lives and then produce multimedia narrative that illustrates the struggles endured by those bullied as well as those who eventually rise above their experiences.

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