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Wisconsin School of Business Students Pushing for the Speed of Sound

An artist’s impression of what vacuum-tube travel might one day look like – SpaceX’s Hyperloop competition is allowing students of Wisconsin School of Business to work towards breaking the sound barrier

Michael Schlicting has a need for speed. The Wisconsin School of Business MBA graduate and current PhD candidate is leading part of a multidisciplinary team building Hyperloop with Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk. This alternative mode of transport is based around pods moving through large tubes at extremely high speeds.


“More than 100 students from business, physics, economics, communications, and even family studies are getting together with engineering students to invent the future,” Schlicting enthuses

SpaceX competition provides platform for Hyperloop transport prototypes

His team, Badgerloop, is one of 24 worldwide selected to compete in SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition II this coming August in what will be a fight to accelerate the development of functional Hyperloop prototypes. 

Not heard of Hyperloop? The technology is, according to some, the future of transport — a vacuum-tube system on pylons that can move levitating pods full of people at up to 760mph — nearly the speed of sound.

As part of the SpaceX competition, teams — including one representing Arizona State University and the Thunderbird School of Global Management — put their pods through a litany of tests focused on achieving one goal; maximum speed.

UW–Madison’s Badgerloop crew, which featured 12 students of the Wisconsin School of Business, took home one of that event's two Innovation Awards after grabbing the attention of Musk, who sat in a Hyperloop for the first time while testing out their life-size pod. The team also received a Dean’s Award of Excellence at student organization awards held at UW–Madison earlier in the year.   

We are “passionate about cool technologies of the future” says Wisconsin School of Business student

Johnny Kohlbeck, a current student at the Wisconsin School of Business and another member of the Badgerloop gang, says the team have taken their business education and applied it outside of the classroom.

The student engineers ensure the business students get their hands dirty, through tasks that include soldering wires on a battery box, while they also contribute to operations, supply chain, marketing, and fundraising.

“There’s this picture of us that gets used in entrepreneurship classes where we’re at our hotel. The beds are up against the wall and everything’s cleared out. We have floodlights in there, and we’re working on [the] electrical system over here, braking system over there, and just wiring at three in the morning,” Kohlbeck says.

He adds: “Our team is passionate about cool technologies of the future, going faster, helping bring this fifth transportation mode [after boats, trains, planes and automobiles] to life or just working on something that’s going to help benefit society.


“To find a place that is welcoming to me and allows me to bring value to the table while getting to do what I love; it’s just awesome. I think at the end of the day, it’s about feeling like you can actually make an impact.”

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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