MISSOULA – The University of Montana hosted its annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge on March 8 for an enthusiastic crowd in the Music Recital Hall. The business competition, presented by UM’s Blackstone LaunchPad and College of Business, featured a dozen contestants chosen from 25 applicants, all competing for cash prizes totaling $50,000.
UM and Montana State University competitors pitched business ideas to more than 50 judges representing Montana’s elite business community.
The winning top four teams were:
The Ant Network: The overall winner of the competition and the top prize of $15,000 went to the Bozeman team The Ant Network. Team members Miles Maxcer, Ben Schwartz, Thomas Stanton and Elle Olstyzn are passionate about using The Ant Network platform to address the growing challenges associated with environmental change. The Ant Network is a communication platform that uses media, exhibits and educational experiences to promote conservation, improve science literacy and encourage exploration of the natural world.
The Ant Network team also won the “Intent to Launch” $1,000 award. Maxcer, The Ant Network’s lead spokesman during the competition, also won the $1,000 “Brandon Speth Award for Passion, Poise and Charisma.”
May West Milkweed: Bozeman native Alayna Rasile also had a great day with her business, May West Milkweed, winning over both the crowd and the judges and leaving with a total of $12,000 through four different awards: second place overall, the “Manufactured Product Award,” “Best Elevator Pitch” and the “People’s Choice Award” for $7,500, $1,000, $3,500 and $3,500, respectively. Her company uses the milkweed plant to manufacture winter jackets in a renewable and sustainable manner. Besides being unique in the winter jacket market, using milkweed to produce jackets also benefits the monarch butterfly, which is highly dependent on milkweed habitat.
Kubed: Coming in at third place was Sophia Koopmeiners and Serena Gossack from Bozeman with their kale, chia seed and coconut smoothie additive that allows consumers to give themselves an easy, healthy boost. In addition to the $5,000 third-place prize, Kubed won the prestigious $1,500 “Athena Award” recognizing the team with the most dynamic female competitor who embodies leadership, drive, passion and accomplishment.
Sellout Inc.: Sellout Inc., also from Bozeman, took fourth place and went home with $2,500. Sellout Inc. is an online ticketing platform attempting to disrupt the event ticketing market through its event organizer-focused platform that offers features to prevent scalping and fraud. Co-founders Joel Martin, Henry Vinson and Sam Heutmaker are excited about the future of the platform and happy with the feedback from audience members, as Sellout’s platform was used to sell tickets to the event.
UM’s Patrick Berens won the “Most Innovative” $1,000 award with his online insurance broker software that allows consumers to compare and apply for health insurance policies in significantly less time and hassle. The award recognizes the most innovative team that leverages cloud, wireless, big data and analytics, or AI technologies. Berens also will have the opportunity to work directly with Blackfoot Telecommunication’s C2M program, which helps connect entrepreneurs with resources and capital.
Student teams that didn’t place in the top four or receive a secondary award each took home $1,000 and include Richard Mittens and Dominique Nault, Cultivated by Native Montana; Kassi Strong, Peak Retreats; Issac Maier and Clay Kellinger, Weaver Web Solutions; Thomas Wartick and Mary Weikum, Bits & Brews; Cade Ellis, CubiEZ; Taylor Margot, Scry Chat Inc.; and Takamasa Kagiyama, Key to the Mountain. Read about these teams at https://news.umt.edu/2019/02/021519john.php.
Blackstone LaunchPad at UM is an entrepreneurship center for students, alumni, faculty and staff. The organization offers free services to assist entrepreneurs in turning their ideas, skills and passions into real-world businesses and nonprofit organizations through individualized coaching and venture creation support.