UM Business School Announces Winners of Business Startup Challenge

May 18, 2015

MISSOULA – The University of Montana School of Business Administration, along with the Montana Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs and the Blackstone LaunchPad at UM, have announced the winners of the 26th annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge.

UM MBA student Chad Miller of Florence took home the top prize of $15,000 for his startup plan, Purus. Purus is a Montana-based company dedicated to engineering a sustainable wastewater treatment solution for the oil and gas industry. MonTEC, the UM-based nonprofit business incubator, also will provide the winner with a six-month affiliate membership.

During the 13-hour competition held May 14 at the UM Gallagher Business Building, 16 student teams competed in three rounds of judging and presentations, leading up to the evening’s final round, during which four finalists presented their business plans to a panel of 51 judges and an audience of more than 200.

Faculty from higher education institutions across Montana nominated student teams for consideration in the event, which is designed to encourage Montana students to demonstrate real-world activity and evolve their business ideas based on market interaction and feedback.

The event is judged and coached by venture capitalists, angel investors, bankers, successful entrepreneurs and corporate executives who share their expertise and commit their time before and during the competition.

Support from more than 50 sponsors and private donors funded the more than $45,000 prize purse and the students’ competition expenses. Details on the awards and winners follow.

  • First place: Purus – UM MBA student Chad Miller of Florence. Purus is a Montana-based company dedicated to engineering a sustainable wastewater treatment solution for the oil and gas industry. $15,000 prize.
  • Second place: Doces Brasil – UM MBA student Leo Esteves of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Doces Brasil is an artisan chocolatier company in Missoula that produces and sells high-end Brazilian recipe desserts to retail and wholesale customers. $7,500 prize.
  • Third place: GeoFli – UM MBA student Kyle Pucko of Webster, New York. GeoFli is specifically designed for colleges and universities to create multiple versions of the same URL targeting an exact geographic location, with no coding required. $5,000 prize.
  • Fourth place: United Methanol Corporation – UM student Stephen Jenkins of Bigfork. United Methanol Corporation is a clean technology company focusing on the conversion of low-value woody biomass into high purity methanol and liquid carbon dioxide. $2,500 prize.
  • Best Undergraduate Business Plan Award: Item Bounty – UM-Western student Christopher Casties of Irvine, California, and Montana State University student Mike Maher of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Item Bounty is a web application that provides an interactive community of requesters and finders. A requester is a user who inputs the specifications of a product or service they’re looking for online and the fee they are willing to pay for someone to find it.
  • Elevator Pitch (60-second team presentation): Ndigena – UM MBA students Thomas Kurdy of Great Falls and Rachel Strasshofer of Missoula. Ndigena produces powerful digital content that includes video production in a lean, documentary style that triggers a consumer’s emotional connection. $2,500 prize.
  • Runner-up Elevator Pitch: Leo Esteves – Doces Brasil. $1,000 prize.

The following special awards were given to teams or individuals based on specific criteria:

  • Brandon Speth Passion, Poise, and Charisma Award: Doces Brasil – Leo Esteves, $1,000 prize.
  • People’s Choice Award: Purus – Chad Miller. $2,500 prize.
  • Polymath Award: Leg Up Innovations – UM student Chantanelle Nava of Shepherd. Leg Up Innovations makes life easier for people on crutches. The apparatus attaches to a standard crutch to create a stable, adjustable footrest to place an injured leg on. $2,500 prize.
  • Most Dynamic and Scalable Award: Purus – Chad Miller. $1,000 prize.
  • Blackstone Launchpad Innovation Award: Dungeon Emporium – UM student William Milligan of Havre. Dungeon Emporium is a website to distribute various products designed for use with the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop role-playing game. $1,000 prize.
  • Manufactured Product Award: United Methanol Corporation – Stephen Jenkins. $1,000 prize.
  • Feasibility Award: Monter Consulting – UM student Katherine Vincent of Missoula. Monter Consulting is a full-service online marketing agency offering web development and graphic design services with expertise in search engine rank strategy. $1,000 prize.

MADE was founded by successful entrepreneurs with the goal of bringing their experience to students and the classroom. In addition to supporting the John Ruffatto Startup Challenge, held each spring at UM, MADE organizes an advanced entrepreneurship seminar series and also honors influential entrepreneurs who demonstrate a commitment to Montana with the Pioneer in Industry Award. For more information about MADE, visit

UM’s School of Business Administration is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, the most rigorous accrediting body for business degree programs. For more information visit  

Contact: Larae Hackney, special programs coordinator, UM School of Business Administration, 406-243-4830,