Elise Maxwell

Elisa Maxwell, ’16 MBA, took first place in the Acara Challenge this month for her start-up, which provides user-friendly, sustainable products and resources that cater to women’s health throughout their lives.  Ova is an e-commerce platform that will sell menstrual cups and fashionable absorbent underwear, and offer health information specific to women that is both easy to understand and medically accurate. Maxwell plans to expand Ova’s offerings to serve women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, and entering menopause. 

“Ova supports women’s wellness as their bodies change over time, and does so in a way that’s approachable and engaging,” says Maxwell.

The Acara Challenge is a venture competition that rewards University of Minnesota students developing viable venture solutions to address global social and environmental challenges including issues related to water, sanitation, energy, waste, health, education, sustainability, and poverty. This year, the competition named winners in two divisions: domestic and international.

Maxwell attributes her first-place win in the domestic division to her business plan’s well-developed value proposition.

“I looked at companies that are marketing breast pumps and products for menopause, and their tone is very medical and intimidating. We’re changing that. Ova strives to create content that’s easy to read, accurate, and approachable,” she says.

Maxwell won $1,000 to invest in her business, and her choice of a scholarship to the Acara Spring Institute in St. Paul or Summer Institute in Bangalore, India. Ova is also eligible to receive up to $5,000 in additional funding.

This summer, Maxwell will launch the Ova e-commerce website that sells menstrual cups and helps women find the right menstrual products for their bodies.

Maxwell began developing the idea through STARTUP, a class offered by the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, and continues to fine-tune the business plan as she progresses through the Carlson MBA program.

“I would never have been able to get any traction with Ova if it wasn’t for the accounting, finance, and marketing classes I’ve taken at Carlson,” she says. “Those classes gave me the language and tools to start to start a business.”

Additional Carlson School students place in 2015 Acara Challenge

Beyond Maxwell’s first-place win, several other Carlson School students were recognized for their ideas in the 2015 Acara Challenge.

City Compost MN is a Minneapolis waste processing company that cuts trash volume and creates a valuable end product compared to current systems. The team is led by Peter Schmitt, a student pursuing a dual degree from the Carlson School and the Humphrey School. The venture won silver in the domestic division.

For marginalized job seekers who need career experience, Autonomee is TaskRabbit for software development. The initiative is led by Full-Time MBA student Steven Bruce and won bronze in the domestic division.

Minnetonka Local offers business development and retail support to encourage lower-income entrepreneurs, in order to build community engagement. The team is led by Full-Time MBA student Alana Buckner, and tied for bronze in the domestic division.

Aiming to close the gap between public opinion and scientific consensus, the BDW Blog provides a neutral, impartial voice. Undergraduate student Josh Magnuson is a member of the team, which earned an honorable mention in the domestic division.

E-Grove created an accessible collection service to help citizens of Bangalore responsibly recycle e-waste. Undergraduate student Joshua Auerbach is a member of the team, which won silver in the international division.

Ripple helps water purification and testing companies connect their products and services with rural markets to improve health in rural communities. Undergraduate student Anna Schulte is a team member. The team won bronze in the international division.

The Acara Challenge is held by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School.