Students fund company with WarriorsINNOVATE challenge

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Cheney Mason / Winonan

Four finalists at Winona State University competed in the WarriorsINNOVATE challenge on Monday, April 10, for $5,000 each to jump start their companies.

Treedome Productions and Children of Incarcerated Parents were the two winners of the challenge.

Children of Incarcerated Parents is a nonprofit summer program to support children dealing with incarcerated parents and reduce the child’s chance of being incarcerated.

Treedome productions, started by Micheal Pelley, a junior public relations major, Ben Strand, a fifth year journalism and English writing major and Nathaniel Nelson, a senior journalism and film major, are hoping to connect the local community interested in music and entertainment with the college community in hopes to, as Pelley said, “open up some of those boundaries.”

“We officially launched on social media and stuff back in September, and then a few weeks later I was browsing Winona’s website and I came across this innovate challenge,” Strand said. “I looked into it and I was like ‘we need to do this.’”

WarriorsINNOVATE was a three-month challenge put on by the Entrepreneur Club and the College of Business, and was sponsored by the WSU Foundation.

“It was a three-step process,” Strand said. “The first one we just kind of got introduced to the whole thing, like kind of what it was and how it would be running, and we signed up at that point.”

Four finalists pitched their entrepreneurial ideas to five judges and the judges then decided the two winners.

“This felt like the next step for our company,” Pelley said. “It’s good connectivity between us and the college too, which is part of our audience.”

The participants in the challenge were given tools, resources and mentors during the three rounds of judging to aid them in constructing their own creative proposal for the judges in each round. 

“Our mentor helped guide us along with the process in terms of what we needed to do better at, what we were doing well, what we could do to give the best pitch possible,” Strand said. “It helped give us the best chance to win.”

The person pitching the idea to the panel of judges was judged on innovation, impact, implementation and presentation.

“We had to come up with an executive summary, which is basically a brief summary of what our organization does and the people involved,” Strand said. “We then prepared for the pitch, which is what we just got done with, and between that time we were assigned a mentor.”

The goal of the challenge was to help students interested in the entrepreneurial world and get them engaged in the process of creating a product with other students to bring to life.

Both Strand and Pelley said they were excited to get their company name out to more students because they want to merge students and their music services.

“There’s a really strong music and arts and entertainment community here in Winona and we’re trying to capitalize on that,” Strand said. “Primarily in the Minnesota and Wisconsin region, and even in Iowa, people are starting to, when you say Winona…have somewhat familiarity that there is a strong arts and entertainment community.”

Pelley explained how they pitched what kind of services the company provided to the public.

“We still haven’t finalized plans for what we are going to do with the money,” Pelley said. “We know that an investment in a better video camera was definitely something we were thinking about.”

Pelley and Strand said they have plans to put the money they won towards needed and updated equipment for their business and marketing campaigns to spread the word.

“We know that there is a revolving door of students coming through that have musical backgrounds or are majoring in something in the music department,” Strand said. “For those who have ambition and want to maybe take being a recording artist seriously, we want to give them an affordable outlet.”

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