Idea Challenge names five finalists

EAU CLAIRE — Five local entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas for new products or services next week in a contest that provides money to help their businesses develop.

Last week the Eau Claire Economic Development Corp. named those five finalists who are competing in The Idea Challenge:

• Beth Crowell also goes by “The Hippie Banker,” offering her services as a loan consultant and life coach and specializes in helping women start their own businesses.

• Kevin Neff is creating a light-weight, rubber device that scoops up tennis balls, intended for use in casual games of tennis or when playing fetch with a dog.

• Jim McDougall’s UpStream AV has developed wireless audio/visual solutions intended to be easy-to-use, adaptable in a variety of settings and save on installation costs.

• Kyle Lehman’s multi-camera and live streaming video system is marketed as a way to add high-quality video to special events.

• Bill Lobner’s Green Fleet is a luxury car service featuring Tesla electric vehicles for use within a 100-mile radius of Eau Claire.

These finalists will give 10-minute pitches to a panel of judges, who can then ask questions of the entrepreneurs. The competition will take place virtually on Dec. 15 using online videoconferencing service Zoom.

The winner gets $5,000 in reimbursable business expenses. All finalists will receive $500 and a package of marketing and business services to help advance their business ideas.

UW-Stout gets smart manufacturing grant

MENOMONIE — The U.S. Department of Defense and National Security Agency are providing a $149,000 grant to UW-Stout for a proposal to develop a smart and secure manufacturing pilot project.

Smart manufacturing systems respond in real-time to market demand, but can be cybersecurity risks and vulnerable to computer hacking if not adequately protected.

With its cyber defense center and Manufacturing Outreach Center working together, UW-Stout is looking to help businesses see ways they could safely adopt smart manufacturing technology.

The university is creating a testing lab that small- and medium-size manufacturers could use to experiment and explore both the benefits and challenges of smart manufacturing solutions for their business uses, according to UW-Stout Professor Holly Yuan. The lab is scheduled to open in May.

In addition to the grant, the university also received $55,000 for scholarship for a student studying cybersecurity. The scholarship will cover one year’s tuition and fees, provide a $25,000 stipend and pay for a trip to a national cybersecurity conference.

From staff reports