Alijah Nelson Wins Gustie Entrepreneur Cup

The annual competition brought out seven teams to pitch their ideas and hone their entrepreneurial skills.
Posted on June 11th, 2019 by

Alijah Nelson receives his first-place check from Director Marta Podemska-Mikluch at the 2019 Gustie Entrepreneur Cup.

Alijah Nelson receives his first-place check from Director Marta Podemska-Mikluch at the 2019 Gustie Entrepreneur Cup.

Every year, the Gustie Entrepreneur Cup challenges students across campus to put their creative and innovative ideas to the test for a chance to win up to $5,000 in seed money. This year was no exception, with seven teams competing for the grand prize at the annual competition on May 11.

“The Gustie Entrepreneur Cup is important because there are pockets of innovative thinking all over campus and this event offers students the opportunity to showcase their ideas,” Thomas Clement said. Clement, who teaches in the Department of Economics and Management, helps direct the event along with professor Marta Podemska-Mikluch.

Some of this year’s ideas included a watch that monitors for abnormal heart rhythms, a service that allows students to buy and sell textbooks directly with other students, and software that would improve the current on-campus Safe Rides system.

The winning idea, however, was D-Up, a robotic basketball defender created by senior geography major (and now Gustavus graduate) Alijah Nelson. Nelson’s invention features player tracking ability, which allows the robot to play defense in a game of basketball against a solo player.

“I have been programming robots since middle school. I had this idea for nearly two years and only five months ago I finally decided to build my first prototype for D-Up,” Nelson said.

One of the teams pitches their idea at the 2019 Gustie Entrepreneur Cup.

In addition to the $5,000 in money that will allow him to continue developing D-Up, Nelson also automatically became a semifinalist in the student division of the Minnesota Cup, a statewide entrepreneurship competition.

“With any entrepreneurial idea, we look for innovation,” Clement said. “The judges examine the idea itself, as well as how much progress has been made on it and what the overall plan is moving forward. We also put an emphasis on the Gustavus core values of excellence, community, justice, faith, and service in the development of the ideas.”

Nelson added that communication is key when it comes to developing an idea.

“Having the confidence to share your creative ideas is the most helpful thing you can do as an entrepreneur. I proposed two different ideas before sharing the idea, D-Up, that I had stored for almost two years. Unlike the other ideas, I didn’t propose D-Up with a business plan. I was just having a personal conversation with one of the Gustie Cup advisers and he shared with me that he has a kid that plays basketball. Then I said ‘I have another idea,’ which is now D-Up,” Nelson said.

Students who are interested in competing in future entrepreneur cups do not have to do it alone. Events are held starting months in advance to help inform and coach students develop their ideas. The event is open to students of all majors.

“One of my primary goals for the Gustie Entrepreneur Cup is to make it a premier event at Gustavus. One of the first ways of achieving that goal is to make students aware that this event is inclusive to everyone on campus. This isn’t just an event for business-oriented students. It holds just as much relevance and importance for students in the sciences, the fine arts, and all of the other disciplines,” Clement said.

The 2020 Gustie Entrepreneur Cup is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, 2020. This event is free and open to the public.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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