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2014 Idea Challenge Finalists & Winner!

Posted by Christina on December 12th, 2014

Yesterday was an exciting and busy morning for the EDC! The five finalists of the Idea Challenge had the opportunity to spend 15 minutes presenting their idea, followed by 5 minutes of Q&A from the panel of judges. Our judges this year (shown in photo below from left to right) were Kim Pierson (University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire), Rick Labmrecht (AGEM Group Inc.), Lisa Johnson (Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation), Gerald Jacobson (President of Northwestern Bank), and Mark Kalish (Envirotech).


Presenters randomly drew a number to determine the order that they would present and the presentations began! To kick things off was Tony Olson, who had a great and innovative idea that is secret as of right now so we can’t share (sorry!).

Following Tony was James Sullivan with the Sullivan Tip Down that was a great hit (in particular with the fellow fishermen).  His product is sold online and you can learn more about the Sullivan Tip Down and his other products at his website:

Next was the dynamic duo of Jamie and Zacharious Pappas with their innovative organics recycling service to support the waste management needs of the Eau Claire Area community and environment. Learn more about this innovative waste management solution at

Following the Pappas was Jeff Dykes, a Fire Instructor at the Chippewa Valley Technical College and a Firefighter of over 20 years, who presented Northern Star – a safety advancement that will aid firefighters in situations where they become disorientated and need to locate north.

Last but in no way least was Tank Tops presented by Matt Unser. These septic tank covers take a common eye sore and turn them into an attractive focal point that you won’t mind your neighbors noticing!

All the finalists delivered stellar presentations, and the judges had their work cut out for them. After a lot of deliberation the judges came out and all the finalists were presented plaques (shown from left to right in the photo below): Matt Unser, James Sullivan,  Jeff Dykes, Tony Olson, Jamie Pappas, and Zacharious Pappas.


“Each finalist of the Idea Challenge is considered a winner. All finalists are going to continue to advance their ideas and products forward with the assistance of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation,” explained Luke Hanson from the Eau Claire Area EDC.

In the end, there can only be one Grand Prize winner and that was Jeff Dykes with Northern Star! Northern Star is a small LED display that can be retrofitted to firefighter’s helmets so they are able to quickly determine where North is when disorientated.

“I look forward to using my winning to produce, promote, and distribute the ‘Northern Star’ – a product that will help save lives of my brothers and sisters serving in the fire service,” stated Dykes.

Currently, an average of 105 firefighters die annually –  28% of those deaths occur in structure fires where firefighters can become disorientated due to low visibility and quickly changing conditions (source: U.S. Fire Administration, 2013)

Congratulations to all the finalists and to Jeff Dykes for being the 2014 Grand Prize winner of the Idea Challenge.

Applications for the Idea Challenge are accepted year-round – to submit your idea click here!