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Get ready for creativity, entrepreneurship at InnovateUA’s annual Pitchfest

Courtesy Robert Johnson
Innovate UA directors host many workshops throughout the year for students to build on their initial pitches submitted during the fall semester.

InnovateUA has been hard at work this semester encouraging students to pursue new and creative pathways to entrepreneurship.

“I got involved with InnovateUA because I didn’t necessarily have a community when I started at the UA and I found the events I was at to be really exciting to understand how my ideas could be taken to the next level,” said Robert Johnson, pre-business sophomore and community director of InnovateUA. “I wanted to build that community with them because I saw how important it was for me personally.”

Johnson, who oversees InnovateUA’s events said he pushes its mission of fostering the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship campus-wide and would encourage students of all majors to get involved.

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He said when he was first introduced to InnovateUA, he was inspired by the people around him that were working through and advertising this process.

“There’s no other place campus-wide that you are able to have your idea and build it out with all the different resources we offer,” Johnson said.

Justin Williams, founder, chairman and CEO of Startup Tucson and InnovateUA co-founder and executive director, said since it was established in 2014, the vision was always to have a student-run initiative.

Students will start pitching their ideas to InnovateUA’s annual Pitchfest, this week according to Williams.

Pitchfest is a nationwide competition where students compete to win up to $1,000 by submitting a video ranging from 30 seconds to three minutes detailing their idea. Pitches can be submitted online to one of many different problem-solving categories including health, mobile apps, tech and hardware and more.

RELATED: Reuters ranks UA No. 63 in the world for innovative universities 

Jasmine Sears, a sixth year Ph.D. student in optical sciences and the operating director for InnovateUA, said she got involved with InnovateUA during the first Pitchfest she attended, where she won in one of the categories.

“At the end of the Pitchfest program, which lasts about a month, we take all the pitches, review them and award prizes at the end,” Williams said. “Then we invite everyone who did that to continue on in a series of programs throughout the rest of the school year.”

In addition to building entrepreneurship skills, Sears said the types of skills students develop can help them in areas outside the business realm, too. An example situation she gave was if students ever wanted to apply for grant money.

“The universal benefit of participating is that employers desperately want students to become their employees who have these kinds of skills,” Williams said.

Melissa Vito, senior vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and senior vice provost of Academic Initiatives and Student Success said InnovateUA is comprised of groups of students from all academic areas.

“InnovateUA pulls students together around ideas, issues and ways to solve problems that lead to unique businesses on campus,” Vito said.

Another program offered by InnovateUA is Startup Weekend in February where students with ideas for startup businesses can learn about tools and skills to improve and fine-tune the idea. Startup Weekend will be in February 2017.

Two examples of startups that have resulted from participation in InnovateUA are WorkSphere and WorkSphere, a smartphone app that allows employers to manage their workforce communication from the app, was developed by students from the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship. is a website that “focuses on millennial Native American students,” according to Williams.

Over the course of last year, Williams said several thousand students participated in different InnovateUA programs, with the largest ones being Pitchfest, Hack Arizona and TEDx UA.

Stipends from InnovateUA’s budget can be awarded as prize money to students at the end of the year. In addition, the Perkins Coie LLP Law Firm donates $10,000 toward prize money for students participating in InnovateUA, according to Williams.

“There are a lot of different opportunities to do what you want to do and help change the world in the ways you want it to change,” Williams said.

Follow Jessica Suriano on Twitter.

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