Students Awarded $3,000 at UM Startup Pitch Competition

December 14, 2016

MISSOULA – Three students received awards at the EPIC Pitch Competition, hosted by the Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana, the Montana Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs and UM School of Business Administration on Dec. 7 in the Gilkey Building. 

Nine finalists pitched their rough business ideas with the hope of winning a portion of $3,000. The diverse set of competitors included five women, two of whom are participants in UM’s Pursue Your Passion program, designed to engage women in entrepreneurship.

Clare Weiler, a UM MBA student, won the overall competition and took home $1,500 with her pitch for Bonsai. Bonsai makes homeownership more attainable and affordable by creating something akin to a condominium association with tiny homes, which Weiler and business partner Mark Trapenier quoted to be around $380 per month. Bonsai will gain automatic entry into the larger statewide John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge held annually at UM toward the end of spring semester.

Weiler also won the “Autumn Athena Award,” given to the most dynamic woman who characterizes leadership, drive, passion and accomplishment. She received an additional $500 to go along with her first-place prize, for a total of $2,000.

A $500 award for “most exciting startup idea” went to Taylor Wyllie a, UM journalism and environmental studies student. Wyllie’s idea, FeatureMe, is a web-based store that offers consumers an innovative, unique gift – a personal story.

Winner of the “most compelling live presentation” went to Kassi Soelter, a UM psychology student. She presented her pitch for Crepe Cuisine, a food truck that offers delicious French crepes. The $500 award brings her one step closer to her goal to buy a $750 crepe maker.

Additional students who pitched ideas were Bryce Rowe, The Plastic Re-Shop; Natalie Boose, God Shot Espresso Bar; Mark Trepanier, Virtual Reality Learning Systems; Bridger Frandsen, StrappedIn; Bruce Tyler, Helena SkyHigh; and Josie Baretta, AuntKnow.

UM’s Blackstone LaunchPad introduces entrepreneurship as a viable career path and develops 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 is available to over 350,000 students on 15 campuses throughout the country. More information about the Blackstone LaunchPad is available at

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

To view photos of the event, visit


Contact: Morgan Slemberger, Blackstone LaunchPad at UM marketing and operations manager, 406-243-5723, .