The new SUNY Oswego Innovation Challenge is creating a virtual workspace where students, faculty, staff and alumni work together on innovative ideas to solve business or social problems, while building entrepreneurial skills.

Set for three stages, the challenge builds on the popular annual Launch It student entrepreneur competition. July represents the ideation stage, with the venture bridge stage happening in August and Launch It pitches and partnerships planned for September/October. 

The idea to host such a challenge, School of Business Dean Prabakar Kothandaraman recalled, came from a question a student had at the end of a virtual session led by 1985 alumnus Bob Moritz, chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, in the spring.

"The student wanted to know how they can keep themselves occupied during the summer of uncertainty when internships offers are being withdrawn and new job start dates are getting pushed back," Kothandaraman said. 

"We heard this as a desire from students' side to be engaged during summer," he said. "Myself and our Assistant Dean Irene Scruton set out on a process of discovery that included consultations with our alumni such as Bill Testa and our faculty. It led us to community engagement platforms used by companies to engage with customers to create innovation and loyalty. Thus the innovation platform was created at SUNY Oswego. It is quite likely that this is the first such adaptation in all of higher education."

Students are coached on polishing their idea, then a mentor helps them to convert it into a business or social venture as appropriate. The student teams present their ventures at the Launch It competition. Alumni and faculty serve as coaches and mentors along the way, and some young entrepreneurs have already been partnered with expert mentors who can help see their ideas toward fruition.

Participants sign up, network and cultivate ideas via the Mighty Networks platform, which also offers tools and educational materials to complement the student-faculty-alumni engagement activities. The idea phase wraps up on July 20, so anybody interested is encouraged to join the community by then.

"First and foremost, current students would keep their sense of Oswego community by networking with peers, alumni and faculty even as they work on creative ideas and learn about being innovative. Incoming students will get a sense of how committed we as a campus are in engaging with our students,” Kothandaraman said. “We also worked with the Division of Extended Learning to create digital badges to be awarded to students who finish certain learning modules within the platform created by our faculty. This is a great benefit for our students.”

The site includes free learning modules, videos, blog entries and other resources to help with all phases of the project, as well as incentives and prizes for top participants through various stages.

Oswego alumnus Ed Alberts -- CEO and leader of multiple businesses including F45 Training, Rehab Resources and Little Lukes childcare -- serves as main sponsor for the Innovation Challenge. Organizers said they are very grateful for his support and his willingness to also be a coach and mentor to students during the challenge.   

Felecia Lesser, who earned her bachelor’s in business administration in May 2020, let the School of Business know that she was interested in giving back after graduation. When Kothandaraman brought up an opportunity to lead student engagement on the project, Lesser was happy to join.

“Students are given the opportunity to work with their peers to innovate and create different ideas that could help their community,” Lesser said. “In doing so, they are learning ultimately how to become an entrepreneur. In the following weeks out of the innovation stage, teams will get the opportunity to work with faculty and professionals.”

Organizers seek additional support for this student engagement initiative by asking members of the campus community to consider becoming a coach or mentor for students who will be working on their ideas over the summer. 

To learn more or to become part of the Innovation Challenge, visit