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The Hunger Games came to Brown Saturday, but instead of competing for their lives, tributes participating in the Brown Entrepreneurship Program event vied to develop innovative startup ideas. The 24 Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students who competed in the event were hand-picked by the event's organizers, and their names were announced last month.
The Brown Entrepreneurship Program, founded in 1998, hosts a conference each fall. The program's leaders wanted to try something different this year to make the event more colorful, said Elizabeth Weber '14, the head of the program's executive board.
Ashley Aydin '13, a member of the executive board, said she would have liked more than four RISD students to participate. "We're really working on building a bridge between the RISD and Brown entrepreneurial communities," she said.
The participants did not need any entrepreneurial experience to compete. In fact, the organizers were specifically looking for new people who were not previously involved with the program.
"We wanted to make the event more interactive and involve people outside of the program, so we reached out to people from RISD and (others within Brown)," Aydin said.
The participants met Friday to be randomly assigned to one of four teams: Team Water, Team Fire, Team Earth and Team Air. The teams then started to come up with preliminary ideas for their ventures.
The next day they met for the actual event in Sayles Hall, which was richly decorated with balloons and ivy. The event started off with a performance by the Brown Lion Dancers and a speech by entrepreneur and author Frans Johansson '95.  
Then the teams broke off to face four challenges that had been designed for them. One was a pitch-making challenge led by Ted Waitt, the founder of Gateway, Inc. Each team had five minutes to make a pitch. They presented their ideas, had them critiqued by Waitt and later reworked them.  
In another challenge, the teams imagined they were stuck on a desert island and developed strategies using all of their team members' skills. Richard Katzman, former chief executive officer of appliance manufacturer Kaz, led the challenge.
RISD Professor of Industrial Design Andy Law led the "idea validation challenge," which involved refining a business plan by investigating the target market and potential competition.
The final challenge was a branding challenge led by fashion designer Naeem Khan, who has previously dressed First Lady Michelle Obama and Beyonce. In this challenge, the participants designed logos and slogans for their companies.
The event organizers selected Team Water as the winner based on their performance in each challenge.
"Our idea was basically a Beyond the Bottle program that you could implement in the city," said Rob Rozansky '14, a member of the winning team.
Their plan was to place water dispensers in buildings and sidewalks in an urban environment to encourage more people to drink from reusable water bottles - a venture they named H2O to Go.
"Our idea was a little nebulous at the start, but it was really cool seeing the idea evolve throughout the day as we went through the challenges," Rozansky said. "We saw it really come together in the final pitch."
Allison Chen, a sophomore at RISD and another member of the winning team, said she thought the event proved RISD students and Brown students work really well together. She also said she enjoyed Johansson's energetic speech and working with Khan. "He really helped flesh out my group's idea," she said.
The event organizers said they hope to do it again next year.
"Putting on the whole event was a risk, it's not your typical conference," Weber said. "A lot of people told me it was the best Saturday they'd had in a while."


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