Hippy Feet just one of award-winning ‘big ideas’ proposed by UWRF student entrepreneurs

Posted April 20, 2016

Students at UW-River Falls are seeing success developing their entrepreneurial skills, and in the past two years, have placed in the top three spots at the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament (WBIT), a statewide competition.

Michael Mader placed first during this year’s WBIT for his Hippy Feet idea and Edward Matsushima and Zach Merrick placed third for their Protein Pods proposal. The competition was held April 9 in Madison and was open to students from across the UW System. Last year, Team SoPOD — made up of Eric Wenz, A.J. Lind and An Trieu — placed first.

Mader’s first place finish earned him a $25,000 Ideadvance Grant to help him with Hippy Feet. He also earned a spot in the International Business Model Competition (IBMC) that takes place on April 29-30 on the Microsoft corporate campus in Redmond, Washington. Matsushima and Merrick will be going to the IBMC with Mader because they earned a bid in the at-large round at the WBIT.

Mader, a senior marketing major, said he created Hippy Feet with the goal of helping the homeless community by creating a sock line. Mader found out from the Salvation Army that socks are the most sought-after products in homeless shelters.

The socks are made from organic material and are durable. When a pair of Hippy Feet is purchased, another pair is donated to a local homeless shelter. Mader said he is in the beginning stages of getting Hippy Feet into REI, a national cooperative that sells outdoor recreation equipment.

Danielle Campeau, director of the Center for Innovation and Business Development, is one of the coaches who help the teams prepare for the UWRF Innovation Challenge and the WBIT. Campeau, along with faculty advisor Marina Onken, said they are excited to have a winning team for a second straight year.

“We’re thrilled, for the second year in a row, to have a winning team along with a third place team,” Campeau said. “There’s a lot of preparation that we work with the students in terms of coaching.”

The road to WBIT began with the UWRF Innovation Challenge. Mader gives a lot of credit to Campeau and Onken to his success because they coach and encourage the teams throughout the process that began in early September.

“We do a lot of one-on-one coaching with the teams to help them prepare and work through the business model canvas,” Campeau said. “The business model canvas focuses on getting students outside the building.”

The business model canvas is what Mader, Matsushima and Merrick used to develop their entrepreneurial ideas. As opposed to building a business behind closed doors through writing a business plan, the business model canvas focuses on interviewing people about an idea, according to Campeau.

Mader credits the business model canvas for helping him think outside of just a sock company to a sock company that helps the homeless community.

“I saw a problem, and I knew that I could provide a solution, and so one of my pivots was that I realized I was spending too much time on the sock company aspect of things,” Mader said. “Not enough time was spent expressing the values that I was trying to have my company represents.”

Hippy Feet is not just a school entrepreneurial project for Mader.

“After graduation, I plan on making Hippy Feet my full-time job and giving all of my attention to the company,” Mader said.

Campeau and Mader encourage students in all majors to think about participating in the UWRF Innovation Challenge because, contrary to what students might think, it is not just business majors who are allowed to participate.