Geography Graduate Student Awarded $1,500 in UM Startup Pitch Competition

December 11, 2017

MISSOULA – Three students received awards at the EPIC Pitch Competition, hosted by the University of Montana’s Blackstone LaunchPad and the College of Business on Dec. 7 in the Gilkey Building. 

Eight UM students pitched their business ideas with the hope of winning a portion of $3,000. This year’s finalists came from diverse academic programs across campus and included three participants in UM’s Pursue Your Passion program, a yearlong initiative that helps participants explore their interests through an entrepreneurial mindset.

Craig Koller, a geography graduate student, won the overall competition and took home $1,500 for his pitch for Union Pay Inc. Union Pay Inc. is a cloud-based software service and accounting software add-on that aims to simplify the hiring and payroll process for union contractors and their employees. The idea for Union Pay Inc. grew from Koller’s personal experience in his family’s small construction business and the challenges they faced navigating the technology that unions use when working with employers and members. Koller also won a laptop computer provided by one of the competition’s sponsors: the Bookstore at UM. Union Pay Inc. will gain automatic entry into the larger annual statewide John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge on April 13, 2018, at UM.

The awards for “Most Exciting Startup Idea” and “Most Compelling Live Presentation” went to Jennifer Sheets, a UM creative writing graduate student. Sheets pitched her idea for Storysquares App, a digital platform for K-12 students that uses templates to facilitate learning and exploration of the writing process. Sheets was awarded $1,000.  

The “Autumn Athena Award,” presented to a dynamic female competitor who embodies leadership, drive, passion and accomplishment, was awarded to Catie DeMets, a graduate student in environmental studies. DeMets also is a participant in the Pursue Your Passion Program. She pitched her idea for Mirthful Farm, a “pizza farm” where pizzas, made from ingredients grown sustainably on the farm, are served in a way that celebrates and builds community. She was awarded $500.

UM students Kate Kolwicz, Vesta Historic; Michael Couso, Touch the Stars; Theresa Simons, Shady Grove Orchards and Farm; Matthew Blois and Gerard Sapes, Big Biology Podcast; and Elijah Duckels, Outdoor Gear Checklist, also pitched their business ideas.

This year’s EPIC Pitch competition was made possible by the generous contributions of lead sponsors First Security Bank and the Bookstore at UM and sponsorship of the EPIC Montana program from First Interstate Bank and MontanaCRE.

Blackstone LaunchPad at UM is a center for entrepreneurship for UM 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.
            For more information on UM Blackstone LaunchPad programs, email Jenny Lind, Blackstone LaunchPad MTCC AmeriCorps*VISTA, at




Contact: Paul Gladen, director, Blackstone LaunchPad at UM, 406-243-5723,