Field report … Matt Younkle: From crazy ideas to career entrepreneur

Posted on 22. Jun, 2011 by in Alumni, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Issues, People

We decided to catch up with one of the early champions of our Innovation Days competitions: Matt Younkle (BSECE ’97). Younkle parlayed his success in the 1996 Schoofs Prize into the highly successful TurboTap, a fast-pouring beer dispenser used in sports stadiums across the globe. Now, he’s launching a new venture called murfie.com.

Matt Younkle

Matt Younkle

One of the things I loved about being a student was the abundance of opportunities to think creatively. I was a kid with a lot of crazy ideas, including one that involved a way to pour beer faster. Fortunately for me, a new competition for students had sprung up on campus: the Schoofs Prize for Creativity. Sponsored by UW-Madison alumnus Richard Schoofs, this contest was created to reward the individual or team with the best idea for a patentable product. Finally, I had an outlet (with a deadline, a support network and potential prize money) for my ideas! Just this tiny bit of structure was the difference-maker for me.

My fast beer-pouring idea, called TurboTap, took first place in the 1996 Schoofs Prize, and the experience paved the way for what has become a rewarding career as an entrepreneur. In particular, TurboTap was named a top invention of the year by TIME Magazine and is now used to pour tens of millions of beers every year around the world. Next to meeting my wife, the Schoofs Prize was the single-most influential part of my UW experience.

I recently moved back to Madison after spending over 10 years away, both in Chicago and abroad. In reconnecting with the College of Engineering, I was immediately struck by the high level of entrepreneurial energy that now fills the UW-Madison campus. The Schoofs Prize (and associated Tong Prototype Prize) is still an annual event, and the Burrill Business Plan Competition—which started a few years after Schoofs—is seeing record participation.

But these long-running events are now only a fraction of the contests, activities and resources available to students with entrepreneurial ambitions for their crazy ideas. I haven’t found just one single catalyst for this newfound entrepreneurial energy at UW-Madison. Certainly the economy has something to do with it; with fewer jobs available after graduation, starting a business feels less risky than it used to. Involvement from the Kauffman Foundation has also provided entrepreneurial resources to all corners of campus. Whatever the cause, it’s absolutely inspiring to see so many students interested in pursuing their passion and turning ideas into products and new businesses.

Looking beyond campus, the Madison startup community is doing its part to secure Madison’s position as the creative capital of the Midwest. Groups like Accelerate Madison, Design Madison, Capital Entrepreneurs, MAGNET, and MERLIN offer terrific mentoring and networking opportunities. Last fall, Madison hosted the first Forward Technology Festival, a weeklong series of conferences and social gatherings modeled after the successful South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Today, I’m completely immersed in Madison’s evolving startup culture as founder of Y Innovation. Another one of my crazy ideas has become my new digital music venture, murfie.com, that allows you to ‘free your CDs.’ While there are certainly easier paths to success than a career as an entrepreneur, I love the journey and have the Schoofs Prize to thank for getting it all started.”

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