St. Olaf College | News

Students will compete in the Ole Cup virtually

The Ole Cup at St. Olaf College

The Ole Cup — St. Olaf College’s annual student entrepreneurial competition — is going virtual. Students will submit a video pitch and will be available for live, virtual judging and feedback. Tune in to the live event on Saturday, April 25, beginning at 9:30 a.m. central time.

The Ole Cup was conceived by the late Brad Cleveland ‘82, CEO of Proto Labs, who wanted St. Olaf students to realize how much fun it can be to be an entrepreneur. The event is open to all St. Olaf students. In its first five years, it has helped launch successful businesses like JonnyPops and the Ole Thrift Shop. Each year the winner of the Ole Cup automatically qualifies for the semi-final round of the Minnesota Cup student division. 

The grand prize winner receives $10,000 and services to support the business for up to one year. The second place winner receives $5,000 and the third place winner receives $3,000. There is an additional award of $5,000 for the best social venture.

To prepare student entrepreneurs for the Ole Cup, Piper Center for Vocation and Career Associate Director for Entrepreneurship and Outreach Margaret Bransford provides business plan advising and feedback on students’ pitches. From ideation, to market realities, to financial forecasting, she helps students develop and refine their business ideas. 

This year 10 student teams will compete, and they have had the added challenge of pivoting to a virtual format in response to COVID-19. 

“The students lost two to three weeks of coaching time during what is typically peak Ole Cup preparation season,” says Bransford. “Their move home and switch to online classes added a significant burden to what was already an intense season as they prepared their ventures for the judges. Despite these challenges, they have shown resilience and the ability to adapt their business models in the context of this new environment — qualities critical for entrepreneurial success.”

One silver lining in the switch to virtual this year has been the ability to engage an even broader global audience of St. Olaf alumni, parents, and friends than in the past. For instance, Senior Associate Director for Employer and Alumni Relations Kirsten Cahoon explains that a virtual Ole Cup has given the college an opportunity to connect with entrepreneurial alumni from across the U.S.— those who may not have had the chance to come to campus in person to serve as judges for the competition in years past. “The student teams have an incredible opportunity to gain feedback on their plans from a powerhouse group of experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists,” she says. 

Although the spread of COVID-19 has significantly hampered student programming this spring, St. Olaf never entertained the possibility of delaying or canceling Ole Cup. “In times of adversity and uncertainty, it is entrepreneurs who identify the opportunities and build the ventures that get the economy moving again,” says Bransford. “We need to support entrepreneurs now more than ever. The donors who have supported Ole Cup recognize the potential in our students and the importance of supporting these ventures from the start — and it is our responsibility and privilege to honor that wish in even the toughest of times. What these students have accomplished under significant stress and pressure is a feat, and I am proud that St. Olaf is celebrating their accomplishments.”

Don’t miss the live event this Saturday, April 25 at 9:30 a.m. central time! Head to our website to learn more about the entrepreneurial program at St. Olaf.