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Justin Vannieuwenhoven won $10,000 for his CFS holder, a boat-mounted fishing rod holder. He went on to win another $10,000 in a contest run by the School of Business. Photos by Mark Riechers

When his grandfather would complain to him about the difficulty of fishing on choppy days out on Green Bay, biological systems engineering student Justin Vannieuwenhoven did more than listen. He came up with a solution.

Luke Stedman and Steve Burbach won $2,500 for the TreeREX, a safe, portable tree stand for hunters.

His invention, a boat-mounted holder for fishing rods that self-adjusts to keep bait steady relative to the bottom of the water, won the top prize and $10,000 in this year’s Innovation Days competition, held by the College of Engineering for undergraduates to showcase their creative and marketable ideas.

And in a separate Innovation Days contest, another BSE student took the top prize of $2,500 for a device that improves safety for hunters. Luke Stedman teamed with mechanical engineering senior Steve Burbach to create TreeREX, a portable tree stand equipped with steel “jaws” that clamp around a tree trunk and use the hunter’s weight to secure the clamp. The heavier the hunter, the firmer the grip on the tree.

Both avid hunters, the students said they were interested in addressing safety because falls from tree stands are the leading cause of death during Wisconsin’s gun deer season. (Stedman once took a bruising 20-foot fall from a tree stand himself.)

As for fishing, Vannieuwenhoven says his device, which he calls the CFS Holder, works so well because keeping bait steady makes it look more natural to the fish. In addition—unlike other fishing rod holders on the market—its construction makes rods less likely to pull out when a fish bites, and allows fishers to quickly change bait after a catch. Also unlike other holders, the CFS Holder also can be used on ice or land.

Vannieuwenhoven tested his invention with several experienced anglers who reported higher success rates during rough weather. He has filed a provisional patent application for his design and is launching a business called 3 in 1 Holders. Meanwhile, he continues to gather feedback for further improvements.

At least one target market is already satisfied. “My grandpa has six to eight on his boat at all times,” Vannieuwenhoven says. “He’s in love with it.”