MISSOULA – Montana has no shortage of aspiring entrepreneurs – including students. The annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge, hosted by University of Montana’s School of Business Administration and UM’s Blackstone LaunchPad, received 29 applications from student teams across the state to compete for more than $50,000 in prize money.
A panel of judges selected 16 teams to compete Thursday, April 13, at UM. The teams will pitch their business ideas to a panel of around 50 judges in hopes of receiving a portion of the prize money, which is generously contributed by businesses, organizations and individuals who are committed to the future of entrepreneurship in Montana.
In its 28th year, the competition encompasses ideas from a wide array of ventures. This year students will showcase ideas for tiny home communities, cricket farms for edible protein and more. Finalists represent multiple institutions (UM, Montana Tech, Montana State University and Carroll College) and pursue a range of majors, including business, psychology, journalism, chemistry and natural resource conservation. The 2017 competitors are:
- Pedenza – Designs top-of-the-line, handmade, floating wine bottle holders from fine hardwoods.
- Healthy Eats – Inspired recipe generation tailored to you, whether cooking at home or out shopping.
- Bonsai Communities – Tiny Homes under the Big Sky: A sustainable, affordable housing solution for Missoula.
- Clark Fork Charcuterie – A retail and wholesale producer of locally cured and specialty meats, targeting customers seeking artisanally crafted products.
- Crepe Cuisine – A mobile food truck selling traditional French crepes with a local, Montanan twist to Missoulians looking for a unique and delicious food option.
- FeatureMe, LLC – For that impossible-to-shop-for friend or family member, FeatureMe offers the most unique and genuinely touching personalized gift: a story.
- MatchMade – A project workforce software as a service designed to help leaders build teams through a suitability algorithm based on team member background, skill, preference and project type.
- Miriam’s Inspired Skin Care – Providing natural, local nutrition for skin.
- Ryffit Inc. – Ryffits allows musicians to create custom books of sheet music by popular artists which are then printed and mailed to their doorstep.
- StrappedIn – A social platform that connects local amateur athletes to local companies through sponsorships in exchange for marketing.
- TOMIS – A digital marketing assistant for tour operators.
- Tran·sci·lator – An online science communication platform with a fact-checking component and a simple education model that explains trending science in a clear, concise manner that doesn’t require a Ph.D. to understand.
UM and MSU:
- Darktwin Studios – A game studio focused on decision-based storytelling.
- Cowboy Cricket Farms LLC – The first edible insect farm in Montana, providing a better protein for a better future.
- Farmented – Dedicated to reducing waste in the form of grade “B” and excess vegetables on small, local farms by creating a new, innovative line of fermented goods for a health and Earth-conscious target market.
- Sirberus – A breaching device that saves seconds to save lives.
Paul Gladen, director of the Blackstone LaunchPad at UM and a member of the competition’s organizing team, said the competition has seen a growth in applicants.
“We are extremely excited to see a significant increase of statewide interest in this year’s competition,” Gladen said. “This reflects the growth of entrepreneurship in Montana and the increasing awareness by students that entrepreneurship is a viable career path.”
Les Craig, director of Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU, said the increased interest has broadened the business pitches.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the tremendous talent and diversity of teams selected as finalists,” Craig said. “This competition continues to get better every year. It serves as a significant motivator for students across the state to pursue their passions.”
Judges will select four finalists to compete for the top four prizes at the evening’s public event, including the $15,000 first-place cash prize. The public event and reception begins at 4:30 p.m. in the University Center Theater. Notable previous competition winners include Chilton Skis, Five on Black and Big Sky Brewing Company.