To Solve Community Problems, Competition Gives Oregon College Students Funds, Training

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Nov. 29, 2019 2 p.m.

The Invent Oregon Collegiate Challenge is underway as teams of students representing more than 20 colleges around Oregon work to build something new.

Over the next seven months, students will compete and learn how to sell an idea and create a physical prototype of their product to get a taste of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or inventor.


Photo courtesy of Invent Oregon

Juan Barraza directs student innovation at Portland State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

“They all go through the motions where they have an idea, we ask them to prototype it – have a physical product, and they learn the nuances of building a team and raising capital,” Barraza said.

Barazza says the competition brings in students from all over the state with different majors, backgrounds and interests.

“To our surprise, all our students – regardless of geographical location – have that inventor entrepreneur mindset,” Barraza said. “All they need [is] an opportunity to … experiment.”

Barraza said the goal is not for them students to launch their business after the competition. The goal is for students to go back to school, graduate and then build up the company. But some students try to go into business right away, anyway.


“Many of the students at the end of the competition, have filed for patents and have decided to launch their companies,” Barraza said. “They have been very successful at getting those first steps … taking something that is scalable and commercialize it.”

Those student groups include the team behind Nexgarden. They won the competition in 2017, Invent Oregon's first year. Earlier this year, the group received a grant from Business Oregon to continue developing their mobile urban farms.

Here’s how the competition works:

Colleges host local competitions, where they pick two student teams to compete in the state semifinals. Those 40 teams will receive some cash and training at a boot camp in the spring. Then 23 teams receive $2000 to develop plans and prototypes to present at the finals in June at Rogue Community College.

Teams have freedom to choose what challenge they want to solve based on community issues and what’s taught in class.

The team leading the competition also wants the student entrepreneurs to think about the sustainability of their products.

“One of the elements we ask them to think about is how that idea will be sustainable and not become the next plastic,” Barraza said.

Winning teams receive $30,000 and resources including mentoring opportunities and access to legal resources.

Even if teams don’t win, Barraza says students learn skills outside of their course of study. Engineers can learn how to communicate about their products and their technology. A sociology student can learn how to code. Barraza said students also learn from each other during the Invent Oregon competition.

“They’re acquiring skill sets that otherwise would’ve taken a lot more time for them to learn, or they need to take an extra course at school to be able to acquire those skills,” Barraza said.

How Oregon Dungeness crab make the journey from sea to table.