Student hackathon leads to marketable startup

CID, FIS help students turn strings of code into inclusive digital app in UC's Venture Lab cohort

While student hackathons help bring innovative ideas and technology together, the University of Cincinnati’s Venture Lab startup pre-accelerator offers a path to the next level — connecting startups with top global industry experts and the critical funding necessary to take those ideas to market.

As a valued part of the Cincinnati Innovation District ® (CID) and UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub, corporate partner Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) held a student hackathon to help solve the financial inclusion challenges many people face every day.

During the two-day event, creators, designers, developers and student teams from 19 institutions across the country were tasked with creating a financially-inclusive digital solution that focuses on increasing access to the financial ecosystem and contributes to the financial security of the underprivileged members of their community — all stellar examples of innovation agenda and impact as part of UC's strategic direction Next Lives Here.

Through the "FIS InnovateIN48" hackathon, the winning NQR Finances team out of Madison, Wisconsin, incorporated a combination of social media, educational classes and financial literacy focused giveaways in their mobile app and website, all designed to incentivize users to develop both their financial stability and financial literacy skills.

In a natural next step, the winning NQR Finances team took advantage of another  opportunity to enhance their business concept — participating in the latest UC Venture Lab startup pre-accelerator cohort.

In each seven-week cohort, novel business teams like NQR Finances meet either in person or virtually in UC's 1819 Innovation Hub. There, the Venture Lab — a startup pre-accelerator connecting novel business ideas with local and global corporate Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR) — helps further develop business concepts and teach marketing techniques. 

Ultimately, the valuable collaborations prepare the teams to successfully pitch their businesses to critical investors during the end-of-cohort graduation presentations. 

We know as entrepreneurs we can’t do it alone. UC's Venture Lab pre-accelerator program connects us with corporate EIRs and coaches who help us focus on the underdeveloped aspects of our businesses and pitch our ideas to investors for sufficient financing to get our startups off the ground.

Quinn Thompson Venture Lab cohort 16 NQR Finances team

Write the code to right the world


Teams from UC's Venture Lab's Cohort 16 will present final pitches to investors and global industry leaders at the Nov. 16 virtual graduation open to the public.

“The crux of our concept was to create an app that would allow people to accumulate a sort of digital currency over time by using our web features and completing a host of financial literacy courses,” says Quinn Thompson, second-year IT student at the University of Chicago and member of the winning NQR Finances team. 

“We know as entrepreneurs we can’t do it alone, so through the Venture Lab pre-accelerator we were connected with EIRs and coaches who come from a variety of backgrounds and highly respected financial fields, many with a valuable foothold in the market. While solidifying and codifying our digital products for market, they helped us focus on the underdeveloped aspects of our business, including targeting our services to a very select singular demographic market in order to pitch to investors and secure sufficient financing to get our startup off the ground.”

Beginning with the "FIS InnovateIN48" challenge to Write the Code. Right the World,  Thompson’s team developed a digital app that would incentivize college students and underprivileged individuals to continue to use the app while managing their personal finances and creating income through accruing a digital currency.

Thompson says the earned currencies would allow users to apply for financially stable investments like CDs with a bank or other opportunities to receive stock options.

“Our Venture Lab EIR, who oversees a telehealth organization, helped us narrow our focus to target the underprivileged demographic so our investors know exactly who their end market will be in terms of investing in us and where their potential benefits lie,” adds Thompson.

Of the 14 teams in the latest Cohort, startups included a medical test that uses fuzzy digital logic to detect diabetes, a hybrid fixed wing and rotary wing UAV to deliver packages more efficiently, a novel drug delivery device to control pain at the surgical site and other app and website tools to help develop better financial management skills. 

By the end of each pre-accelerator program, new entrepreneurs have learned to develop concise and to-the-point business pitches that are delivered to a very specific market so, as Thompson says, “Our investors are in the know for how our startups will function in the initial phase and where we will go from there.”

As opportunities like the "FIS InnovateIN48" and UC’s Venture Lab startup pre-accelerator give students the chance to experience a working collaboration with CID corporate partners, new and skilled connections will provide meaningful opportunities for talent growth throughout the region, state and country. 

Featured image at top: Students participating in virtual collaboration. Photo/Pricilla duPreeze/Unsplash

About the Cincinnati Innovation District®

The Cincinnati Innovation District® is a unique and thriving ecosystem that attracts, produces, retains and develops talent by co-locating and collaborating with organizations. The district envelops myriad innovation assets and access to some of the world’s leading academic and research centers, organizations and talent pools. Powered by the University of Cincinnati, the CID includes the world-renowned Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and other national research centers. The district’s mission is to become a globally recognized talent hub and lead a transformational movement. The combination of industry engagement, unique experiential platforms and accessible research expertise — working at the pace of change — will become a model nationwide. For more information on the Cincinnati Innovation District, visit

About UC's 1819 Innovation Hub

The nerve center of the Cincinnati Innovation District®. Home to startups and midsized and Fortune 500 companies, the 1819 Innovation Hub is an ecosystem that serves as a catalyst for collaboration for industry and talent. The 1819 Innovation Hub is the home to UC’s Office of Innovation, UC’s Venture Lab (a startup accelerator program), UC’s Makerspace, UC’s Office of Technology Transfer and 14 corporate partners who are seeking access to talent and proximity for cross-collaboration. Partners that are currently embedded include: Procter & Gamble, Kroger, FIS, Kingsgate Logistics, Cincinnati Bell, Kao Brands, Hillman Accelerator, CincyTech, Village Life Outreach Project, Fifth Third Bank, Cincinnati Insurance Company, Live Well Collaborative and Simpson Center for Urban Futures.

Innovation Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is classified as a Research 1 institution by the Carnegie Commission, is ranked in the National Science Foundation's Top-35 public research universities and secured a spot on Reuter’s World’s Most Innovative Universities list. UC's students and faculty investigate problems and create innovative solutions with real-world impact. Next Lives Here