The UWM Startup Challenge fosters an innovative and entrepreneurial culture at UWM.

What does it mean to start up? 

Does starting up mean a business? Hatching and building an idea? Or could it be kickstarting a new job, or life outside of the university?

To us, at the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center, “starting up” can mean designing your own path, your career, and the world you want to live in. The UWM Startup Challenge fosters an innovative and entrepreneurial culture that goes beyond running your own business or working for yourself. It helps you recognize your own potential and find paths toward joyful and impactful work. 


The Startup Challenge is the longest running Lubar Entrepreneurship Center (LEC) program with over 300 participants so far. This program encourages students to research and develop their ideas, prototype products, services, or social ventures, launch new businesses, and gain the skills that come from entrepreneurial experience.

In addition to our regularly scheduled Small Business Brown Bags and LEC Talk Series the Startup Challenge offers two semesters of hands-on “starting up.”

Fall Semester: Starting up your idea!

In the Fall of 2023, we’re offering three co-curricular workshops with base skills for entrepreneurial thinking.

  1. Research and Development – October 12th, Room 203A in the LEC.
    1. All businesses that fail do so for the same reason: a lack of paying customers. But how do you find your market? Where can you get honest answers around if and how people might actually spend money on your product or service? Who influences their decisions, and where do you find those influencers? What is their budget? What do they value? Why? This workshop teaches tools that get you real answers around how to find and sustain your potential startup. 
  2. Business ModelingNovember 17th, Room 203A in the LEC.
    1. Using “Lean Launchpad” methodology, students and local entrepreneurs are challenged to interact with others to discover the framework of their startups. The Business Model Canvas is a tool that helps entrepreneurs better understand their business by visualizing how their company serves its customers, what value propositions are offered through what channels, and how their company makes money. 
  3. Pitching and StorytellingDecember 2nd, Room 107 in the LEC.
    1. Participants learn the basics of verbal storying telling, including a good pitch for their ideas. They will work on a slide deck and presentation that showcases what they have learned about their market so far, either on their own or through any Startup Challenge workshops they have attended. 

Spring Semester: Starting up yourself

Spring 2024 sees a weekly, for-credit class that applies Design, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship to life and career planning skills.

Open to all Juniors, Seniors, and Graduate Students across the University.

Art 427 / 906 Advanced Design Workshop / Graduate Workshop: Starting up your Work and Life

Fridays, 9am-12pm, LEC Room 107 (American Family Insurance Dream Studio)

In this workshop-guided course, Professor of Art and Design, Mechanical Engineering, and Entrepreneurship, Dr. Nathaniel Stern will work with students to “hack” Design and Innovation tools and frameworks towards designing their work and life. What do you value? What are your values? Where is your value to others? How might you sustain your passions (monetarily and personally) beyond school? What does it mean to start up your life in the ways you want? In weekly, hands-on tutorials and assignments, we’ll utilize things like “The Mom Test,” the Business Model Canvas, the Model Entrepreneur Compass, and Design and Entrepreneurial Thinking, to learn about how we might do Research and Development towards well-being, navigate ambiguity and new work paradigms, leverage impact networks and creative hustling, “personal prototyping,” and more. It’s up to us to design the future – of the world, and for ourselves. Start here.


Broaden your network.

Our best asset to the program is YOU, the people and community around it. Throughout the year, participants interact with each other, esteemed UWM professors and staff, mentors, and Milwaukee business professionals.

Who Can Register?

Starting Up and the Startup Challenge is open to all current UWM students in all schools and colleges, recent UWM alumni, and non-UWM community members. Teams are encouraged, and individuals are welcome. Past participants have ranged from engineered products, computer hardware and software, and biomedical projects to food trucks, music labels, yoga studios, coloring books, non-profits, social ventures, and more. All ideas are welcome and encouraged.

Students are welcome to join the Challenge at any time, but the sooner you get involved the more you will learn and gain from the experience and our community. Apply now!

Commitment & Timeline

The Startup Challenge structure consists of booster sessions (large workshops) , LEC Small Business Brown Bags (office hours and community building every Wednesday at noon), and LEC Hosted Small Business Brown Bags (specific conversation topics with special guests). You should, at minimum, plan to attend every Booster.


Confidentiality & Intellectual Property Protection

At the LEC, students own everything they do and make! That said, the Startup Challenge is designed to foster better decision-making by involving a variety of players. Initial submissions can be treated as confidential upon request; however, the LEC reserves the right to share a non-confidential summary of all ideas as part of our public profile. Intellectual Property remains the property of the disclosing party unless otherwise agreed to separately.

Teaching Team & Advisors

profile photoAvdeev, IlyaLEC Director of Innovation and Kellner Entrepreneurship Fellow, Director, NSF I-Corps™ Site of Southeastern Wisconsin (Milwaukee I-Corps™), Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Department: Mechanical Engineering / Lubar Entrepreneurship CenterMechanical Engineering / Lubar Entrepreneurship Center(414) 510-3631avdeev@uwm.eduEng & Math Sciences 1181

Director of Innovation - Lubar Entrepreneurship Center
Associate Professor - Mechanical Engineering
Director (PI) - Milwaukee I-Corps™ Program
Kellner Entrepreneurship Fellow

profile photoCoffaro, AmeliaWell

Well Entrepreneur-In-Residence, Lubar Entrepreneurship Center

profile photoJanezic, MitchellInnovation InternLubar Entrepreneurship Centermjanezic@uwm.eduLubar Entrepreneurship Center 204

Innovation Intern, Lubar Entrepreneurship Center

profile photoPeterson, LorenEntrepreneur-in-Residence, Milwaukee I-Corps™ Core Teamlgp@eas-mke.comUWM Lubar Entrepreneurship Center

Entrepreneur-in-Residence, UWM Lubar Entrepreneurship Center
Core Team, Milwaukee I-Corps™ Program

profile photoStern, NathanielProfessor // DirectorPSOA Art & Design // Student Startup Challengesternn@uwm.eduUWM Lubar Entrepreneurship Center 201

Professor, Art & Design / Mechanical Engineering
Director, Startup Challenge

profile photoThompson, BrianPresident / DirectorUWMRF / LECbriant@uwmrf.orgUWM Lubar Entrepreneurship Center 210

President, UWMRF
UWM Lubar Entrepreneurship Center
Core Team, Milwaukee I-Corps™ Program

student enterprises in nine years

ideas proposed

student interactions

participants trained in Lean Launch