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The five members of Vast Enterprises.

The Vast Enterprises LLC team celebrates its Minnesota Cup win at the McNamara Alumni Center Sept. 7.

Minnesota Cup goes to recycled pavers

U cosponsors second annual Minnesota Cup, a contest to find the state's most innovative business ideas.

By Pauline Oo

Sept. 7, 2006

Pavers... you see them in patios and playgrounds, over driveways and by swimming pools, on the steps leading up to your neighbor's house...

These flat pieces of masonry, which are interlocked to form an attractive pattern, are usually made from compacted concrete or brick. But soon, thanks to the grand-prize winner of the 2006 Minnesota Cup, paving stones for both commercial and residential construction projects will be made from recycled tires and plastic.

"It's a win-win for the environment and the consumer," said inventor Steve Smith at the awards ceremony on September 7 in the McNamara Alumni Center. Smith, Andy Vander Woude, Troy Achterkirch and Steve Thorkelson form the nine-month-old Vast Enterprises, LLC--winner of the second annual Minnesota Cup, a contest to find, support and promote the state's newest and most innovative business ideas.

Vast Enterprises will design, manufacture and distribute the innovative composite paver brick systems through a network of commercial and retail landscape designers, material providers and constructors. Its first product, the Vast Composite Paver System (patent pending), is made from 99 percent recycled materials and is the world's first economically and socially responsible alternative to the traditional concrete or clay paving stones.

"Steve [Smith] laid pavers, and one day he just said, 'there's got to be an easier way to do this,'" said Achterkirch, University of Minnesota alum and Vast Enterprises manufacturing director. The Vast Composite Paver System is 65 percent lighter than a concrete paver, and it has the same natural look.

"Car tires are now going into landfills, but soon they'll be going into this application," said Achterkirch. "This is a tough product, and it's environmentally friendly and good to look at, at the same time."

Over the next year, the Vast Enterprises quintet will be working on a financing plan with an advisory board from Wells Fargo that will include a business banker, a Small Business Association representative, a Private Client Services professional, an accountant, and an attorney. They also will receive $25,000 in seed capital from Cleveland and his wife Carolyn.

University alums Scott Litman and Dan Mallin, cofounders of Imaginet, created The Minnesota Cup in 2005. Governor Tim Pawlenty launched the contest, which is sponsored by the University and Wells Fargo Bank. This year, more than 650 people from 40 Minnesota counties submitted entries. The contest opened in March; in June judges selected 30 semifinalists, and five finalists were picked last month. In addition to developing more descriptive material, the finalists had to give a 15-minute oral presentation to a panel of 19 judges. Ideas were judged on originality, viability, and quality of presentation.

Minnesota Cup for students

This year, the U's Center for Entrepreneurial Studies worked with U alums and Minnesota Cup co-founders, Dan Mallin and Scott Litman, to include a special category for students. "The objectives of this competition are aligned with our center's, namely to encourage and support entrepreneurship on campus and in the business community," said John Stavig, center director.

The U-Guide invention, by three Carlson School of Management students, won the $5,000 prize. Ryan Broshar, Joseph Collins and Travis Boisvert have already distributed 7,200 copies of U-Guide, a go-to resource for students and parents, in University residence halls. In addition to giving students information about the U, the publication provides University departments, student groups and businesses more exposure for their advertising dollar.

The two other finalists for this new student category were, an online home listing service by U students Steve Nson, Ali Nkosi and Ousama Haffar, and Bright New Ideas, a social-entrepreneurial venture to make affordable solar lanterns, by U students Patrick Delaney, Aleksandr Kladnitsky, Mikhail Semeniuk and Trisha Qualy.

And the judges chose the top three winners, as well as the student winner (see sidebar), minutes before the start of the awards ceremony.

"We had a hard time picking the winner," said Dave Cleveland, cofounder of Riverside Bank. "[They] are all winners."

Mike Cofrin of Andover took second place and $5,000 for Zero Turn Radius Push Mower, a new way to steer a lawn mower. The handlebar system would significantly increase the maneuverability and ease of a push (or reel) lawn mower for homeowners. Cofrin is working with American Lawnmower to launch about 100 of these novel mowers next year.

Third place and $2,500 went to Adam Elliott, Matt Schraan and Bob Clark of St. Paul for ID Insight, a company dedicated to solving the growing problem of identity theft. In 2006, 1 in 20 consumers were victims, and identity theft was a $50 billion headache, said Elliott. His company, through a revolutionary new analysis system, helps financial institutions manage identity risk and resolve address-related discrepancies on new and existing accounts.

"Of course I'm biased, but I can't think of any state that has a higher concentration per capita of innovative thinkers than Minnesota," said Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup cochair. "These [winners] greatly represent that tradition. We look forward to watching these businesses as they go forth and breakthrough in the business landscape."

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks gave the keynote address. He spoke about the U's ties with the public sector and how the U's research and graduates continue to positively impact Minnesota's economy. Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the Carlson School of Management, presented the U's Center for Entrepreneurial Studies inaugural Entrepreneur of the Year Award to former University of Minnesota student Gary Holmes, now president and founder of CSM Corporation. Holmes, who earned an Outstanding Achievement Award from the U last year, frequently speaks to MBA classes and helps to develop the Carlson School's entrepreneurial program.

To learn more about the contest, see The Minnesota Cup or listen to University of Minnesota Moment .

Further reading Minnesota Cup returns for second year Switch wins the cup Village Lights