UM Student Entrepreneurs Impress at Fall Startup Pitch Competition

December 29, 2015

MISSOULA – An enthusiastic audience turned out Dec. 14 for the University of Montana’s annual Fall Startup Pitch Competition held in the Gallagher Business Building and hosted by Blackstone LaunchPad and the Montana Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs.

Nine student contestants were chosen from 15 applicants to compete in the event, and three of those contestants won cash prizes totaling $2,500. It was the most diverse group of competitors to date, with students representing majors including anthropology and sociology; visual and performing arts, dance and sonic arts; environmental studies; health and human performance; computer science; and business.

“I was impressed with the diversity of business ideas and the caliber of student presentations,” said Dori Gilels, MADE member and competition judge. “I was also excited to see students representing a wide range of disciplines and departments across campus.”

The overall winner of the competition was computer science graduate student Evin Oser of Montana Root Applications, who pitched a smartphone application SolarScreen at The Android app currently is available for download on Google Play for $2.99 and is forthcoming in the Apple App Store for iOS. SolarScreen detects sun intensity based on the user’s geolocation, warns the user if UV rays are too high for their personal profile, and also reminds users when to reapply sunscreen. As winner of the fall competition, Oser receives $1,500 and an automatic entry to the larger, statewide John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge held each spring at UM.

The award for “most exciting startup idea” went to Johanna Ciampa, a student in UM’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. Ciampa pitched her idea for EthnoDance, an early-stage venture which captures dances from around the world in video form before they become extinct, and then delivers the content in a subscription-based Web model to institutions and dance enthusiasts. Ciampa was awarded $500.

Winner of the “most compelling live presentation” went to management major Graydon Myhre for his pitch to support sustainable transportation by providing a safe, cost-effective method for longboard, skateboard and scooter users to secure their boards. LongLoc uses recycled material to help organizations to avoid liability and support sustainable transportation in addition to providing greater convenience for both users and other building occupants. Graydon was awarded $500.

Additional students pitching their ideas were Samantha Alario, Gemini Mountain; Tyler Christianson, Vector Visuals; Sam Graeb, planetHEMP; Lindsay Blair, Last Best Records; Zachary Smith, Tea is Chi; and Silvester Ondigo, Mamradi.

“All of the finalists showed a well-thought-out business plan and an excellent ability to communicate,” said Phill Guay, MADE member and judge. “These were not just passionate ideas but disciplined reviews of the markets identifying issues that need to be addressed to create successful businesses. Each participant showed the skills necessary to be both entrepreneurs and business leaders.”

Blackstone LaunchPad at UM is designed to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career path and develop entrepreneurial skills and mindsets through individualized coaching, ideation and venture creation support. Developed as part of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, the program currently is available to over 350,000 students on 15 campuses in six regions across the country. More information about the Blackstone LaunchPad is available at

MADE is a program of the School of Business Administration at UM that promotes and projects the spirit of entrepreneurship to all UM students and Montana entrepreneurs through educational opportunities and special events. MADE members include entrepreneurs and individuals with experience working with and advising entrepreneurs, such as angel investors, bankers, attorneys and SoBA faculty. More information about MADE is available at

Contact: Morgan Slemberger, Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana, 406-243-5723,