Ideas Challenge 2012: From cancer drugs to neckties

Author: Ed Cohen


A cancer vaccine for dogs.

A smart-phone app that lets you use your phone’s camera to search for words on the printed page the way Control-F does with text on a computer.

A way to detect dangerous, counterfeit pharmaceuticals by rubbing a suspect pill over a piece of specially coated paper.

Those were some of the more popular business ideas pitched by students at this fall’s Ideas Challenge, the kick-off event of the annual McCloskey Business Plan Competition.  Held October 9 in the packed-out Giovanini Commons located in the lower level of the Mendoza College of Business, the challenge saw more than 60 elevator-type pitches in the course of the evening.  Winners were selected by audience vote using text messaging.

As innovative as the canine cancer vaccine, word-search app and counterfeit drug detector were, the pitches didn’t in fact win the Ideas Challenge. That honor, and an Apple iPad prize, went to ESTEEM program student Shane McCarthy from Ireland, who proposed harvesting bio-gas (produced by the breakdown of organic matter) from dining-hall food waste and campus grass clippings and using the gas to power campus kitchens.

The Ideas Challenge is designed to encourage participation in the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship’s McCloskey Business Plan Competition, held each spring. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, as well as the broad range of ideas presented in rapid-fire fashion, were good signs that the year-long McCloskey Competition will have a strong field of contenders when it ultimately declares the winners during the final event on April 19.

Now in its 13th year, the McCloskey Business Plan competition is for both for-profit and not-for-profit ventures that have not been launched or are in the earliest stages of launch. 

“It’s not too late to enter,” said Karen Slaggert, associate director for the Gigot Center. “For the first round, alumni simply need to submit a two-page overview that describes the business concept in general, the target customers, industry overview, competitive landscape and revenue potential. The overview is intended to be a summary, not a detailed business plan.

“If you have a good idea for a business venture, I encourage you to take this first step toward making it a reality. Everyone who enters wins in the sense of the valuable advice, mentoring, networking and feedback they gain from the experience.”

To participate, each team must include at least one full-time Notre Dame student, faculty member or alumnus/alumna.

"Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors and sponsors, we are able to offer total prizing of nearly $300,000 this year," said Slaggert. This includes the $25,000 McCloskey Grand Prize, the $15,000 Klau Family Prize for Greatest Social Impact and other smaller cash awards, as well as in-kind prizes for legal, patent and consulting services, among other benefits.

Back at the Ideas Challenge, the next three highest vote-getters after McCarthy also received iPads. That group included finance major Andrew Charnesky’s proposal for a line of men’s ties with a social purpose. Profits from the sale of EmPower Ties, he said, would be used to help fund efforts to teach people in Africa how to start their own businesses.

The cancer vaccine for dogs won a special $75 prize as the best health-care idea. It was pitched by Ashley Kalinauskas, another ESTEEM student, who told the crowd the vaccine relied on patented technology being studied at Notre Dame.

For more information about the McCloskey Business Plan Competition, including detailed guidelines on writing and submitting the overview to enter the competition, visit the Gigot website or contact Karen Slaggert via email at or by telephone at (574) 631-2714.