UM Statewide Business Challenge Competition Selects Competitors

February 15, 2019

MISSOULA – Montana’s aspiring entrepreneurs include impressive students from across the state. The annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge, hosted by the University of Montana College of Business and UM-based Blackstone LaunchPad, received 18 applications from student teams across the state to compete for the over $50,000 in prize money.

A panel of judges selected 12 teams to compete Friday, March 8, at UM. The teams will pitch their business 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 committed to the future of entrepreneurship in Montana.

“The selection committee was excited to again see the diversity of ideas submitted, as well as the passion, innovation and creativity driving student entrepreneurs from across the state,” said Paul Gladen, director of Blackstone LaunchPad at UM and leader of the competition’s organizing team.

In its 30th year, the business challenge attracted student entrepreneurs exploring a variety of ventures – from an aquaponics farm to event ticketing software. Finalists represent both UM and Montana State University, with majors that include business, political science, psychology, management information systems, forestry, finance, computer science, health and human development, and environmental studies.

Of these diverse competitors, four finalists will be selected to compete for the top four prizes at the evening’s public event, including the $15,000 first place cash prize.

Doors open to the public event at 4:30 p.m., and the competition begins at 5 p.m. in the Music Recital Hall of UM’s Music Building. A reception will follow with complimentary food and a cash bar in the Gilkey Education Building.

Tickets for the event cost $15 and are available online at Students are admitted free.

Notable past business challenge winners include Chilton Skis and restaurant Five on Black.

A list of 2019 competitors follows:

Bits & Brews – aims to provide a haven for like-minded competitive and social gamers by offering rentable video game pods and PCs, hosting competitive video gaming tournaments and offering an atmosphere where everybody knows your game. 

CubiEZ – provides a compact and convenient way to store your charging needs. 

Cultivated by Native Montana – a sustainable, vertical garden business that uses aquaponics to grow fresh crops for the community of Busby, which is located on the Northern Cheyenne reservation.

Key to the Mountain –
an ultra-efficient energy compound for outdoor professionals that need all-day sustainable energy with a clear mind.

KUBED– a frozen smoothie cube made from kale, chia seed, and coconut milk that allows you to easily and conveniently boost the nutritional value of any smoothie without the mess or hassle.

May West Milkweed – helps conscious consumers stay warm by making winter jackets from milkweed. 

Peak Retreats – a multichannel network that connects female founders and executives with nationally renowned consultants, determined peers and educational content designed to supplement their personal and professional goals.

Scry Chat Inc. – an app for sharing dating experiences and advice. 

Serapis Systems Inc. – reduces the pain of purchasing a private health insurance policy for private health insurance customers by creating a personalized comparison for every policy using a unique data analytics web service. 

Sellout, Inc. – a cloud-based event ticketing platform for the progressive event organizer designed to combat scalping and fraud. 

The Ant Network – uses a combination of digital media, physical exhibits and educational experiences to enable and encourage people to interact with and care for the Earth’s biodiversity. 

Weaver Web Solutions – a service tech company that provides marketers with high-quality leads at a significantly lower price point and in greater numbers than possible with their current efforts.


Contact: Paul Gladen, Blackstone LaunchPad director, 406-396-3534,