Central Student Government hosted the kickoff and information session for Innovate, a public service pitch competition, in the Michigan League Wednesday evening with approximately 100 students in attendance. Students were able to hear information on how to become involved in the program, and were addressed by several guest speakers.

Innovate is a program in which students can sign up to pitch a public service or entrepreneurship project with the chance of winning $10,000 to help fund continuation of their created project. The deadline to sign up is Jan. 26, and students can either sign up with a group or as an individual to be paired with other individuals of similar interests. Each group will then receive mentors, networks, feedback and advice on public speaking and other aspects important to the field of entrepreneurship.

The first round of judging will take place on Feb. 12, and the final round of pitches will be March 7.

CSG Chief Programming Officer Isabelle Blanchard, an LSA sophomore, served as the Innovate Coordinator, and explained students do not need a pre-formulated plan or solid project in order to sign up, but simply need a passion and an interest in a public service idea. Blanchard explained she looks forward to students working to build upon ideas they already have enthusiasm for, and hopes that Innovate will engage a broader population of the student body.

“We already have twenty sign-ups and the projects are all really diverse,” Blanchard said. “I’m also excited just to get the student body really involved … We’re hoping to follow up with teams throughout the competition and really publicize their projects to the student body, and in the end the student body will also be voting.”

CSG President Anushka Sarkar, an LSA senior, was the introductory speaker at the kickoff event where she highlighted the importance of the program in allowing students to take control of their own ideas and to work toward gaining productive support from those in positions of power.

“Not enough of us know what it means for our public servants to fight for us. Not enough of us know what it means to feel like we have our own fate and our own wellbeing in our own hands. And few, if any of us, know what it means to see the impact of our representatives investing in our ideas. That has to change. And that’s why we built Innovate,” Sarkar said.

One of the kickoff event’s speakers was Suneel Gupta, vice president of product development for Groupon and CEO of Rise, a company that works to make healthcare more affordable through the use of technology. He explained to the room his own perspectives on how to become a successful entrepreneur, specifically through his “Four Chords for Founder Mindset.”

Potential Innovate participants also listened as Gupta gave specific tips and strategies for working through failures and fears. He spoke of his own experiences with writing ideas and anxieties down on paper, for example, and encouraged students to take similar measures to improve their own productivity.

“When you pull things out, when you actually start putting it down on paper, you start to realize that the things we fear the most are often the same things that are least likely to happen,” Gupta said.

University students also joined the lineup of speakers, with Engineering sophomore Keiana Cavé and LSA junior Brendan Genaw giving presentations.

Cavé, who was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2017, discussed her own research experiences, including the time she spent a month month she spent researching for the Smithsonian on an island in Panama. She encouraged student attendees to persevere throughout their journeys, and to recognize that processes are often much more important than the outcomes.

“People always see the end result, and especially for all of us students, people see whatever we list on our résumé, but they don’t really see how we got there, and they don’t know our stories necessarily,” Cavé said.

Genaw, who currently serves as the president of optiMize, an on-campus social impact based entrepreneurship community, expressed similar sentiments as he explained the importance in remaining optimistic and willing to take risks.

“A lot of the amazing entrepreneurs I’ve met are people that decide to tell themselves yes,” Genaw said. “And when you get a community… that’s always going to be telling you yes, it makes you willing to try things that you might not have been able to try.”

LSA freshman Miriam Chung attended the event and said the speakers motivated her to take on a project through Innovate, to work toward her own goals and gain worthwhile experience throughout the process.

“I’m definitely not the type of person to take initiative (on projects like these),” Chung said. “But they were like ‘anyone can do it, you just need to start’ and I was like okay, maybe we can actually do something, even if we don’t win, it’s just a chance to try and do something, to create a project.”

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