IDEA Hub Grand Opening and Launch


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

The Innovation Driver Entrepreneurship Accelerator, or IDEA Hub, a program to help transform ideas into businesses, held its grand opening on Oct. 4 and featured short demos from 10 start-up businesses that participated in the IDEA Hub’s summer accelerator program.

The IDEA Hub is funded by a portion of a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which had been awarded to UW-Platteville and the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Committee in late 2020.

The mission of the IDEA Hub, as stated on its website, is to “stir the entrepreneurial spirit of Southwest Wisconsin through action-oriented workshops and connections to an influential community.”

The summer accelerator program is a prime example of these types of workshops.

It serves to guide community members toward transforming their ideas into startup businesses while also involving the community by providing a platform for constructive feedback to help the business grow and develop.

The grand opening of the IDEA Hub was the culmination of both business development and community involvement; startups shared their quick pitches and received feedback in real time from the audience.

To begin the ceremony, Chancellor Dennis Shields delivered a keynote address on behalf of UW-Platteville, sharing some philosophies of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“(AASCU) believes that regional, comprehensive universities must be stewards of place … wherever they are located, they have an educational mission that they owe to their students, but they are also responsible for being a positive force in the overall ability of a region to thrive.” Shields continued, “This is not a one-off for us. This is part of our overall mission.”

Maia Donohue, director of the IDEA Hub, followed Shields in emphasizing the importance of the IDEA Hub as part of the community- based ecosystem of businesses.

Donohue then turned the floor over to the stars of the show: the businesses and their pitches.

Some startups like CAML-R, Prototype Your Life, and Onstitute were formed by UW-Platteville professors and faculty while others, like Clopas and Skillzboard, have involved UW-Platteville students and alumni throughout their development.

The Exponent had the opportunity to interview two Platteville alumni, David Ababio, a 2018 UW-Platteville alum in Electrical Engineering, and Seneida Biendarra, a 2020 UW-Platteville alum in Industrial Engineering.

Ababio began his time with Clopas, a family-friendly video game studio, during his senior year.

While working toward graduation, he worked part-time and, once he completed his degree, he began full-time employment. Now, Ababio serves as the Chief Operating Officer and Lead for Narrative Design.

“We’re local here to Platteville and we’ve had amazing things happen with local talent – over 90% of our staff is local talent,” Ababio said. “In the past three years of our existence, we’ve had 12 to 16 employees, which is really robust for a small, indie studio.”

During his time working in a small business environment, Ababio has been able to “wear a bunch of hats” and step into various roles that allow him to test his abilities and knowledge.

“Because I’m an (electrical engineer), I can help out on the software sides of things, too. The COO hat has a lot of the business heavy aspects but when I do the Narrative Design, it’s total creativity,” Ababio noted.

Seneida Biendarra has been part of a five-person team alongside other students and professor Gokul Gopalakrishnan since the creation of the Skillzboard, a wooden, portable platform that provides safe practicing opportunities for climbing of all skill levels, in 2020.

The Outdoor Adventure Club needed a way to educate climbers, and thus, the Skillzboard came to be.

“Every year, we would go out and do cool spring break trips,” remarked Biendarra. “Everyone needed to be educated on climbing anchors and we needed to verify that everyone was going to be safe on these trips.”

Before Skillzboard, OAC would utilize the walls in the attic of the club house to test people’s knowledge on climbing. Gopalakrishnan guided the team of students toward designing a solution and submitting the design to contests and services for businesses.

After seeing success with the design contests, graduation began to pull the team of students in separate directions. In early 2020, COVID-19 brought the team back together virtually. Through online meeting, the Skillzboard team reaffirmed their passion for the product.

Skillzboard hit Kickstarter with positive reception from friends, family and close acquaintances. After reaching the Kickstarter goal, the Skillzboard team produced its first large-scale manufacturing run.

“From there, we did our first round of production. With that round, we’ve since been able to see more organic growth that’s not just the friends and family who support us,” continued Biendarra. “We have a map with all the places that we’ve sold Skillzboards to. It includes most of the states out west and east, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the U.K.”

Continuing to work with host organizations like UW-Platteville, WiSys VentureHome, the Platteville Incubator, SWWRPC, the Center on Rural Innovation and Prosperity Southwest, the IDEA Hub plans to offer more programs and workshops for future entrepreneurs and business people.