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SparkTank encourages students to pass it on.
By Tamara Linse
The No. 1 goal at the University of Wyoming is student success. One way UW accomplishes this is to help students use their power for good. UW helps students become active citizens in their communities — to lead but also to join with others to give back and to pay it forward.
Just as UW and nonprofit foundations team up to promote student success and the greater good, the UW College of Business’s SparkTank initiative teams up with foundations and donors to help area nonprofits with vital funding.
SparkTank is a yearly event hosted by UW’s Ethics Club, a recognized student organization focused on developing student character and conscience and promoting ethical decision-making. Over the past six years since it was founded, it has raised over $400,000 that supported 20 nonprofit organizations. Funding from the James Orr Willits Ethics Award, created for UW by the philanthropy of the Garber family, helped the group create its website (uwsparktank.org).
The event is a Shark-Tank style competition for nonprofits for which the students of the Ethics Club serve as the jury and decide how to distribute the funding. The process includes calling for nominations of nonprofits, invitations to submit elevator pitches, finalist selection, due diligence site visits, Q&A sessions, guidance for presentations, and then the event itself. This initiative not only allows students to make a significant impact on the community, but it also fosters a deeper understanding of ethics in business.
A sample of nonprofits that have benefited include the following.
The SparkTank event has been supported by hundreds of individual donors and organizations such as the John P. Ellbogen Foundation, Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative, Scarlett Family Foundation, American Truck Business Services, Powder Horn Realty, OtterBox, Walmart, and Martin Family Foundation, among many others.
Prior to SparkTank in 2015, the UW Foundation founded UW Giving Day. This annual UW philanthropic tradition went from raising thousands of dollars in 24 hours its first year to raising millions — funding that directly supports student success. The Ethics Club fundraising campaign quickly became a model for organizations across campus. They enthusiastically promoted the event, reaching hundreds of donors and raised significant funding that they could then pass along through the SparkTank event.
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of our relationship with the UW Foundation and all it has done to support SparkTank and our nonprofit community,” says Kent Noble, Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Faculty Fellow and the Ethics Club adviser.
SparkTank also teamed up with the students from the Sales Seminar program. These students immersed themselves in this real-world sales experience. They managed the sales pipeline, generated leads and successfully closed deals. Including matching dollars, sales students raised nearly $90,000 for SparkTank 2023.