UM’s Statewide Startup Competition Selects Student Competitors

April 05, 2018

MISSOULA – The John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge at the University of Montana will award $50,000 in cash prizes to college students throughout the state during its competition on Friday, April 13.

Montana’s aspiring entrepreneurs include 12 teams of students. The annual competition, hosted by UM’s College of Business and the Blackstone LaunchPad, received 27 applications from student teams to compete for more than $50,000 in prize money.

The selected teams will pitch their business to a panel of around 50 judges in hopes of receiving a portion of the prize money, which is a combination of donations from businesses, organizations and individuals committed to the future of entrepreneurship in Montana.

In its 29th year, the John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge draws students starting ventures from a “pizza farm” to union labor management software. Finalists represent both UM and Montana State University, with majors that include microbiology, computer science, marketing, finance, creative writing, geography, environmental studies and mechanical engineering.  

“Our selection team was amazed at the high-quality entries we had this year,” said Paul Gladen, director of the Blackstone LaunchPad at UM and leader of the competition’s organizing team. “Selecting finalists proved difficult because the competition was so steep. This reflects the quality of education students are getting in Montana, as well as this generation’s eagerness to start something that can make an impact.”

A list of the 2018 competitors follows.

  • Crispr Communications – A PR and marketing firm for scientists.
  • Evergreen Game & Hobby LLC – A Montana-based company that will provide an expansive inventory of board and video gaming, comic and hobby supplies to customers in its targeted market.
  • Freats – A business matching potentially wasted food with hungry people.
  • Games Inc LLC – A company that provides the most engaging and dynamic social card game in tabletop gaming.
  • Ice Viper Hockey – A high stability street hockey puck that turns asphalt into ice.
  • LegalGen – A smart document builder for lawyers.
  • Mirthful Farm – A business set to flip the model of a conventional farm-to-table restaurant by putting the tables on the farm.
  • Montana Outdoor Experiences Inc. – A business that provides a free, easy-to-use online outdoor education and recreation events calendar. It is equipped with marketing tools for businesses and organizations to advertise and promote outdoor events and easy access for recreationists.
  • Morphose Exercise Systems LLC – A system for physical therapists seeking to increase patient compliance that offers a 360-degree view of home exercises with built-in accountability features accessible from any computer, tablet or smartphone.
  • Storysquares App – A digital storyboarding app that gives step-by-step instruction to help K-12 students write stories and reports with confidence.
  • Wage Sheets – A “software as a service” cloud platform and accounting software add-on that gives union contractors and their employees clarity and peace of mind during the hiring and payroll process.
  • Vaytricks – A business that helps content makers – audio producers, video producers, artists and designers – do better work faster by providing effective, flexible applications meant for the next generation of creators.

Of these diverse competitors, four finalists are selected during the day to compete for the top prizes at the evening’s public event, including the $15,000 first-place cash prize. Notable previous JRBSC winners include Chilton Skis, the restaurant Five on Black and GeoFli.

The public event begins at 5 p.m. in the Gallagher Business Building, with doors opening at 4:30 p.m. A reception with a complimentary food and a cash bar will follow in the Harold and Priscilla Gilkey Building. Tickets for the event are free for students and cost $10 for the general public. They are available online at


Contact: Paul Gladen, UM Blackstone LaunchPad director and competition organizer, 406-396-3534,