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Higher Ed

Professor looks to brackets for new student startup competition


Sean Branagan doesn't want to get any angry phone calls from the NCAA's* lawyers for ripping off their idea, but he took inspiration from a certain national college basketball tournament, held every March, for a new student startup competition.

Branagan is the director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University's Newhouse School. He came up with Student Startup Madness about a year ago and is gearing it up into a national competition this school year.

The tournament is open to digital media startups that are comprised, at least in part, by college students.

Here's how Branagan says it will work:

Sixty-four teams will be selected through online applications and voted on by judges. The top 32 teams will go to regional "pitch-fests" on college campuses and present their idea in person. And then eight teams from the "pitch-fests" will get to present their ideas at the famed SXSW Interactive conference in Austin - which also happens every March.

Branagan says a tournament like this will give an equal shot to a great idea from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as one from Stanford.

"This gives them a way to break in as well," he says of teams from lesser known schools. "And that’s the whole objective of this thing, to level the playing field so you can have that Cinderella Team come out of nowhere and go all the way to the championship."

Branagan hopes there will be more than one winning team in this championship. In the startup world, competitions like this are all about winning over investors and gaining publicity.

"Nearly everybody has a chance to win, if you think about it," he explains. "There’s only one trophy winner in those big tournaments. In the case of this, it’s like everyone getting an NBA contract – because that’s possible. And, if fact, if we do it right, it's likely."

Student teams have until the end of October to get their ideas in. The regional "pitch-fests" will happen in December.

* National Collegiate Athletic Association

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