On the morning of the McGinnis Venture Competition at Carnegie Mellon, students begin filtering into the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship to practice their pitches, eager to compete for $60,000 investments in front of investors and corporations.

Dave Mawhinney, the executive director for the Swartz Center, is eager to speak about the competition.

“We are very excited to have Walmart sponsor this year’s McGinnis Venture Competition,” Mawhinney says. “I think there are multiple benefits for all participants.”

Considering that some of the most disruptive successes in technology (Facebook, Google, Napster, Microsoft) began as student startups, events such as these are critical to the startup ecosystem because they combat two distinct challenges faced by student entrepreneurs: raising capital and connecting with the right investors or experienced mentors.

“While student-focused venture funds and incubation organizations offer great value towards launching student companies, Walmart also has a compelling value proposition,” says Jacob Pandian, academic engagement lead for Walmart’s emerging technology team. “Besides being one of the world’s largest market places, Walmart can offer mentorship and professional advice as well as a platform to test innovative ideas and accelerate technology development.”

Walmart is fostering the student entrepreneur ecosystem by supporting venture competitions, pitch contests and student accelerator programs.

This year, as the sole sponsor for the McGinnis Venture Competition, Walmart brought in associate experts across various areas of technology to act as judges through the three-round competition.

“Large corporations like Walmart get to see the leading-edge innovation that’s going on at a world class university,” Mawhinney says. “You get to see the next generation of startups that might help you .”

Companies competing in such student venture competitions often become part of the value chain for larger corporations. One such example is Walmart’s recent acquisition of Modcloth, which was founded in 2002 by Carnegie Mellon University students Susan Gregg Koger and Eric Koger, and went through the McGinnis Venture Competition as well.

Intentionally exposing student-led ideas and purposefully connecting startups with the resources of a large corporation allows ideas to move quickly through incubation.

“There are a few big players like Walmart that really dictate innovation because they have the resources and can take the risk,” says student entrepreneur Ivan Pistov, CEO of Teratonix.

“There were many conversations that took place between the different startups and relevant Walmart stakeholders from energy to robotics,” said Pandian. “These led to at follow up engagements we are now planning with two of the student teams.”

In addition to sponsoring the Carnegie Mellon McGinnis Venture Competition, Walmart is sponsoring five other student entrepreneur engagements this year. Universities include Penn State, the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, Cornell, Brigham Young University, University of Texas at Austin SEAL program.

In addition to these academic engagements, Walmart will also be participating as a sponsor at the Next Gen Summit, the leading student entrepreneur forum in New York.

Cultivating innovation in an enterprise takes a multi-faceted approach, and academic engagements are a pivotal way in which Walmart can help student ventures bring disruptive ideas to life.

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