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HomeBusinessMontana State students win $10,000 in entrepreneurial contest

Montana State students win $10,000 in entrepreneurial contest

BOZEMAN — Montana State University’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship awarded $10,000 to students who pitched their business ideas during the annual Big Idea Challenge.

During the Nov. 8 contest, 12 finalists — a mix of individuals and small teams — presented their business ideas to a crowded room and participated in a Q&A with a panel of five judges that included Jake Jabs, an MSU alum, founder and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse and benefactor of the business college that bears his name.

“Tonight featured new, innovative ideas that made sense,” Jabs told the crowd. “I like that you’re addressing current issues.”

The student entrepreneurs were split into four categories — health and life science, social and climate impact, consumer products and services, and a general category.

The finalists were selected from a pool of 49 applicants. Judges selected three finalists in each category to present at the event, which was held in Jabs Hall on the MSU campus. The competition was open to all MSU students and Gallatin College MSU students, regardless of major.

The pitch competition helps students dial in their ideas and build their entrepreneurship skills while introducing them to a network of potential investors.

Trevor Huffmaster, executive director of MSU’s Blackstone Launchpad, which hosted the event, said this year’s contest had the most applicants and was the best attended in its six-year history.

“This has been one of the strongest groups yet, and we are really excited,” he said.

After the contestants made their pitches, the judges deliberated while participants and attendees mingled over snacks and beverages.

“You have no idea how close these were,” said Jackie Brookshire, who judged the event and is the president of American Furniture Warehouse. “It was really tough. There were a lot of close calls.”

The other three judges were Ann Peterson, program director for the Montana Innovation Project; Kristen Beveridge, executive-level product design leader; and Mark Kozubal, co-founder and former CSO of Nature’s Fynd.

Winners of each category took home a check for $1,250. Second place finishers earned $750, and $500 was awarded for third place.

The winners for each category are listed below:

General Category:

  • FirstPlace: Zest Eco-Ropes — Kenzie ONeil and Nicole Matuszynski take recycled climbing ropes and turn them into belts and other items.
  • Second Place: Artimis — Jesse Cook uses artificial intelligence to help businesses innovate and save money.
  • Third Place: 1-Up Jewelry — Matthew Manning purchases old jewelry and refurbishes or alters it before selling it on commission at local businesses.

Health and Life Science:

  • First Place: Flexsense — Lexia Dauenhauer and Kaylan Wait designed a device to help people rehab their knees.
  • Second Place: Get Home Safe Project — Andrew McClure and Jack Preedy are developing safety stations and a rapid test for fentanyl and date rape drugs.
  • Third Place: H-Brace — Michael Schwarz is developing a brace to help rock climbers recover from a common finger injury.

Social and Climate Impact:

  • First Place: English Para Todos — Kass Thompson offers affordable and accessible English classes for adults in the Gallatin Valley.
  • Second Place: Niitsitapi Campground — Taylee RidesAtTheDoor is developing a campground and a community center for people to learn Native traditions.
  • Third Place: EcoFill — Melia Swirsky designed sustainable stations that allow consumers to refill bottles of household items, like laundry detergent and shampoo, at grocery stores.

Consumer Products and Services:

  • First Place: Montana Bachelorette Adventures — Kirsten Hansen operates a luxury trip planning service targeted to bachelorette parties.
  • Second Place: Pack-Right — Hayden Rowland works with adventure travel companies to help guests find the proper gear.
  • Third Place: Xove — Kaidan Staskowski is developing a dating app platform that performs background checks and ID verifications.

The MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship offers four undergraduate options of study — accounting, finance, management and marketing — as well as five minors — accounting, business administration, entrepreneurship and small business management, finance and international business. The college also offers a master of professional accountancy degree, a master of science in innovation and management, and certificates in business and entrepreneurship.

MSU’s Blackstone LaunchPad helps MSU students succeed in entrepreneurship and in their careers. Open to students and recent alumni in all majors, the campus-based LaunchPad provides mentoring, opportunities for participants to grow their networks and resources to help their businesses succeed. For more information, visit: montana.edu/launchpad/.

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