Build a startup from the ground up.

September 27-29th 2019, Siebel Center

Application deadline extended to September 23rd at 11:59pm

54 is a 3-day event where students from different backgrounds come together to form teams and launch a successful startup. No experience required. Just bring yourself, some friends and good ideas. Food and drinks will be provided.


arrowWho should apply?

54 is open to all majors and ages. We strongly believe that entrepreneurship isn’t tied to a major – anyone with a passion to solve a problem can build a startup.

arrowWhen will I hear back?

We will be sending out acceptances on a rolling basis until the application deadline, which is Wednesday, October 2nd.

arrowDo I have to pitch an idea to participate?

You can still attend 54 even if you don’t pitch an idea; however, the exchange of ideas is what makes 54 great! We highly encourage brainstorming ideas. We want to be inspired by your passion!

arrowWhat can I do in the meantime?

Think of problems that you personally face every day or see in your community and how you would solve those! We also encourage practicing your pitch! Also, tell your friends and check out our Facebook event and social media links to get updates. :)

During the Weekend

arrowCan I pitch an idea for a startup that’s already in progress?

Yes! This year we'll be accepting in-progress startups. You won't be eligible for normal prizes, but if our Microgrants committee likes your pitch, you may receive a microgrant up to $500 from Founders.

arrowCan I pitch more than one idea?

Depending on the number of ideas pitched, you may be able to pitch two ideas.

arrowWhat if my idea doesn’t get selected?

No problem! You can still join a team and participate.

arrowCan we see past presentation examples?

Absolutely. Send us a message and we can share some past slide decks with you.


arrowWhat is 54?

54 is a startup weekend where ideas are turned into a reality. Attendees come in on Friday and pitch ideas, form teams, and learn how to turn their ideas into a business with mentors' guidance over the course of the weekend.

arrowWhat's in it for you?

54 builds strong friendships and sustainable businesses that last even after the event is over. Startups are powered aircrafts, not projectiles.

Cash Prizes: The top three teams will walk away with some money to help turn their idea into a reality.
Dinner: The top teams get a networking dinner with our sponsors.
Real Startups: Some of our past winners include Amber Waves, Mymetrics, and FreeSkies.

arrowWill there be food?

Absolutely! We will have a constant supply of snacks, coffee, and food – you take care of your startup, we'll take care of you.

arrowIs it overnight?

Nope. You won't need to work overnight to get things done, and we believe people do their best work when they take care of themselves.

arrowI have an idea that I want to pitch! What should I do to prepare?

Awesome! 54 is the perfect place to meet team members that can help bring your idea to life. Practice and do your research; no presentation slides please – you will have 60 seconds to convince attendees to join your team!

arrowI don’t have an idea that I want to pitch :(

Bring a unique perspective - teams will need members from many different backgrounds!

arrowAre we expected to work on our startup after 54 is over?

We provide cash prizes and a network so you have direction and motivation to continue working on your startup! However, learning how a company is started with your team and mentors is still a great experience on its own, and we understand that not everybody can commit to their own company full-time.

arrowWhat are past participants up to?

They’ve gone on to win the Cozad New Venture Competition, participate in startup accelerators, participated in fellowships, and raised funding.

arrow404: Question not found?

Feel free to email us at


arrowCan I have a pre-formed team?

We highly encourage forming teams at the event to gain new perspectives, though you're free to bring friends and stick together.

arrowWhen does the event start and end?

Check-in starts at 4:45 PM on Friday, September 27th. The event ends at 6:30 PM on Sunday, September 29th.

arrowWhat should I bring?

A laptop, charger, passion, and excitement!

Day 1: Imagine

Pitch Fest
Team Formation

Day 2: Create

Market Research
Business Evaluation

Day 3: Launch


Full Weekend Schedule

2019 Speakers

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Ryan Shea

Ryan is the CEO of Entrepreneur Media, the company that owns Entrepreneur Magazine and, which collectively get almost 90 million readers a month.

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Christina Qi

Christina is the Co-Founder and CEO of Domeyard, a quantitative hedge fund that trades billions of dollars daily. She is also a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree.

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Tom Lehman

Tom is the Co-Founder and CEO of Genius, the most popular music encyclopedia in the world. You might've seen their lyrics on Google or Spotify :)

2019 Mentors

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Musa Sulejmani

Musa Sulejmani is the CEO and founder of Volume Technologies, a holding company for internal projects, and Volume Apps, a development agency. He initially built Volume Technologies as an undergraduate at UIUC. With $1MM revenue in his first year of business, Sulejmani left school to pursue his app full time. Based out of California, he is also a freelance app developer and an end stage renal disease survivor.

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Trisha Gupta

Trisha Gupta, a senior in Computer Engineering, is the founder of Filify 3D. Filify 3D is creating an alliance of maker spaces in universities that believe in sustainable innovation. Along with a base curriculum Filify 3D provides the machinery to take failed 3D prints and recycle them into 3D printing filament that can be sold to printing facilities.

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Denise Maple

Denise Maple became a Clinical Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois Gies College of Business in August 2019. Prior to that, she was the US Region Head for Commercial Banking Training and Development at CIBC. In this role she headed up a program that develops, trains and manages entry-level credit analysts, while also providing continuing education to experienced commercial bankers. Prior to joining CIBC in 2012, she was Founder and President of VaVaVroom, a women’s motorcycle and scooter apparel business, as well as Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Columbia College Chicago.

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Ken Taylor

Ken Taylor is the Data Engineering Manager at Granular's Research Park office. He’s worked for renowned companies such as Capital One, Agrible, Akuna Capital, Yahoo, Motorola, and others. He’s an expert engineer as well as an experienced manager with expertise across multiple industries.

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Stephanie Pitts-Noggle

As an experienced researcher and market research guru, Stephanie’s work at the Champaign Public Library revolves leveraging the tools of librarianship to create inclusive, interdisciplinary, and innovative programming to support aspiring and established entrepreneurs, and to build a socially just and ethical society rooted in strong information literacy skills.

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Chris Wu

Chris Wu is currently an associate at Impact Engine, an impact-focused investment firm focused on addressing urgent social and environmental needs. Prior to joining Impact Engine, Chris was a licensed professional engineer and LEED consultant specializing in green building design and construction, as well as program management on capital improvement projects modernizing municipal water infrastructure. He is also currently an MBA Candidate at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

2019 Judges

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Mark Smith

Over the years, Mark has developed broad experience in working with the global academic research community and Fortune 500 hardware and software companies. Early in his career, Mark helped launch several software companies and has gone through the full start-up experience, including raising investor capital and producing, selling, and supporting commercial developer tools and 3-D modeling software. He is a non-technical founder of Geomagic, a 3D modeling software company that was acquired by 3D Systems Corporation. Mark is a Serra Ventures limited partner, a private equity investor, and consults with Build Equinox, a technology company that focuses on indoor air quality measurement and control.