Innovation Week brings together creative problem-solvers from all fields

Each year innovation and entrepreneurship programming at the University of Chicago grow more popular and more diverse, prompting the creation this spring of the first “Innovation Week,” set for May 22-30. The observance will feature activities from units across campus and is sponsored by the Chicago Innovation Exchange, IT Services, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the Social Enterprise Initiative at the Chicago Booth School of Business.

“The idea was to build momentum around a lot of the programming that goes on here,” says Ellen Rudnick, executive director of the Polsky Center. “There are so many events taking place; we wanted to promote them.”

UChicago students, faculty and staff are invited to learn about the growing number of campus entrepreneurship resources and opportunities by taking part in the week’s many workshops, guest lectures and capstone events.

Chief among them are the “finals” for the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge: UChicago’s premier business start-up program that helps student teams take original ideas and turn them into viable ventures. Started in 1996, the New Venture Challenge was traditionally geared toward graduate business students creating companies with high-growth potential. In more recent years, however, the program has expanded to include three additional tracks—one for businesses with a social mission, one for global business students and another targeting undergraduates.

The finals allow NVC participants to pitch their ideas to a panel of expert judges, many of them UChicago alumni, who ask tough questions, provide feedback and choose a grand prize winner. “We’ve built a network of entrepreneurs and investors from all over the country who have participated as judges,” Rudnick says. “We try to have them represent different expertise in areas such as high tech, healthcare and consumer products.” Winners in all tracks split prizes that include cash and in-kind business services.  

Newer on the innovation scene is the UChicago App Challenge, now in its third year and sponsored by the UChicago IT Services. The competition is open to UChicago faculty, staff and students; no prior knowledge of computer science or app building is necessary. “The only requirement is that they come with an idea,” said Chris Riedel, program manager for innovation and business development with UChicago IT Services. “They must be actively engaged with a problem and how their app could solve it.”

This year’s three finalists, chosen from a pool of 113, received assistance in building their apps from computer science students. The completed apps were then sent to judges before the finals “so they could load them onto their phones and get used to them,” Riedel says. The finalists will present their apps to judges and compete for a grand prize of $10,000.

Winners for all competitions will be announced at the Innovation Showcase held Thursday, May 29, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., in the Rothman Winter Garden at the Charles M. Harper Center. With tables around the perimeter of the space, the showcase allows numerous University-based teams to display their work—and it provides a crucial venue for networking.

“It’s a great way to connect with one another,” Rudnick says. “There will be all of these guests on campus for the NVC events … Undergrads often come away with internship positions.”

Other Innovation Week activities will include hard-hat tours of the Chicago Innovation Exchange, the business incubation hub slated to open on East 53rd Street this fall.

Taking the concept of innovation a step further, the week will feature a “100 Saxophones for Sun Ra” event, where 100 saxophonists will gather in Washington Park to pay tribute to the innovative jazz legend 100 years after his birth.  

For more information on Innovation Week, visit and follow the conversation on Twitter at #UChicagoinnovationweek and #ChicagoNVC.