About 30 Arkansas companies got their start by participating in the Governor’s Cup college business plan competition sponsored by Arkansas Capital Corp., Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said. , host of the 22nd annual luncheon held on Thursday, March 31.
This year’s crop of student entrepreneurs included 32 teams with 170 students and advisors from 10 Arkansas colleges and universities. The competition allows students to submit a business plan for a potential company for the chance to share $100,000 in prize money provided by Dhu Thompson, a former Arkansas banker and entrepreneur who started and ran Delta Plastics until he sold a majority stake to investment bankers. in 2019.
Thompson, the guest speaker at the luncheon held at Rogers, told the student entrepreneurs that innovation and running a business is the destination, not the journey. He said business is personal for entrepreneurs and he told them not to let anyone tell them otherwise.
“Your business is a reflection of you, your ethics and your culture. You are not GM or AT&T, you are you. It then becomes very personal. Let your failures help open the door to future success and remember that fear is a real thing. When you can’t get interest paid on time or you have inventory that’s upside down, it can be scary,” he said.
He said it’s important to practice courage and trust your instincts when the going gets tough.
“Show your value as a leader and remember that being able to lead is a privilege. There are no ivory towers. … Practice humility and never think you’re the smartest person in the room,” he said.
THE COMPETITION PROCESS
Earlier this month, the 32 teams were narrowed down to 12 finalists, six in the small business category and six in the high growth/tech category. Each of the teams was judged on their business plans which ranged from technology to help small pharmacists compete with giants like CVS, and a diagnostic test for cats that shows the likelihood of widespread cancers in cats.
Other teams focused on helping restaurants better manage online menus in an era of increased sales for delivery and pickup, and one team that sought to level the playing field for children and teens with developmental disabilities with a range of age-appropriate toys that promote learning. Another group is looking to reduce feed costs for chicken processors like Tyson Food with a patent-pending technique that allows certain enzymes to be tolerated by broiler chickens. Enzymes allow more efficient absorption of food.
Part of the lunch included the finalist teams making a 90-second pitch to the public for a chance to win an additional $2,000 for the two teams garnering the most votes from the public. Ascend, a team of students from John Brown University, won the elevator pitch award for the small business group. Brady Collard, the team leader, told Talk Business & Politics that his group opted for the all-in-one tree support system for avid hunters, which makes the hunting experience safer and more comfortable.
Ascend impressed the contest judges by winning the top prize of $20,000 in the small business category. Collard is a ministry major and once accepted a job at a church in San Angelo, Texas after graduating. The Waco, Texas native said he plans to continue working on developing a prototype for the hunting stand with his team members because he is an avid hunter. He said the stand will sell for around $700 and the manufacturing cost is $200. Collard said he was delighted to have Charles Baldwin, CEO of Cabela’s, as an advisor on the project.
Horizon Health Solutions, a team from the University of Arkansas, also won the elevator speech contest for the high growth/tech division. This team’s activity aims to help independent pharmacists with software that optimizes prescription drug margins and provides market insight previously only available to large pharmacy chains. The team picked up a $2,000 prize for the win.
GammaVet, a team from the University of Arkansas, won first place in the high growth/technology division. Shanna Owens, microbiologist and team member, said GammaVet is a veterinary diagnostics company focused on fighting viruses that attack cats. Owens told Talk Business & Politics the company holds a patent for the diagnostic test that pharmacists can use to detect FcaGHV1, a cancer-producing virus in cats. She said the team worked with local veterinary offices to obtain the blood samples they use to test their prototype test. The test will work like a COVID home rapid test or pregnancy test where the drop of blood is mixed in the test kit to see if a positive market is found.
Owens said the team will continue to work on this venture, raising more capital and studying viruses that affect cats with the goal of improving feline health. GammaVet received $20,000 for first place.
SECOND, THIRD PLACE WINNERS
Second-place teams won a $15,000 prize. CiphrX Biotechnologies, a team at the University of Arkansas, is developing genetic sequencing technology that can be used by hospitals to deliver same-day results and improve the speed at which doctors can obtain genetic biomarkers from their patients. to better plan their cancer treatments.
Bento, a team from the University of Arkansas, won the second prize of $15,000 for the small business category. Bento has developed a digital menu platform that it plans to sell to restaurateurs. Group Team Leader Toma Tomonari said the platform is a turnkey application that allows restaurants to add and remove menu items in real time, list sales features and better engage customers inside and outside the restaurant.
Third place winners received prizes of $10,000 to further their business ventures. Orange Otter Toys, another team from the University of Arkansas, took home the award in the small business category and Shock, also from the University of Arkansas, took third place in the high growth/ technology. Shock’s business is focused on better feed conversions for chicken farmers, as feed accounts for 70% of the cost of raising a bird.