Around 30 Arkansas companies got their start from entering the Governor’s Cup Collegiate Business Plan Competition and sponsored by the Arkansas Capital Corp., said Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston, an emcee at the 22nd annual luncheon held Thursday (March 31).
This year’s crop of student entrepreneurs included 32 teams with 170 students and advisors from 10 Arkansas colleges and universities. The competition allows college students to submit a business plan for a potential venture for the chance to share in $100,000 of prize money provided by Dhu Thompson, a former Arkansas banker and entrepreneur who started and ran Delta Plastics until he sold a majority interest to investment bankers in 2019.
Thompson, the keynote speaker at the luncheon held in Rogers, told the student entrepreneurs that innovating and running a business is the destination, not the journey. He said business is personal to entrepreneurs and he told them not to let anyone tell them otherwise.
“Your business is a reflection of you, your ethics and your culture. You are not GM or AT&T you’re you. So it becomes very personal. Let your failures help you open the door to future success and remember that fear is a real thing. When you can’t make an interest pay on time or you are upside down on inventory it can be scary,” he said.
He said it’s important to practice courage and to trust one’s gut when the going gets tough.
“Show your value as a leader and remember being able to lead is a privilege. There are no ivory towers. … Practice humility and never think you are the smartest person in the room,” he said.
THE COMPETITION PROCESS
Earlier this month the 32 teams were narrowed down to 12 finalists, six in the category of small business and six in the category of high growth/tech. Each of the teams were judged on their business plans which ranged from technology to help small pharmacists compete with giants like CVS, and a diagnostic test for cats that shows the likelihood of cancers prevalent in cats.
Other teams focused on helping restaurants better manage online menus in the era of increased sales for delivery and pickup, and a team who sought to even the playing field for children and adolescents with developmental disorders with a line of age appropriate toys that promote learning. Another group seeks to reduce feed costs for chicken processors like Tyson Foods with a patent pending technique that allows for certain enzymes to be tolerated by broiler chickens. The enzymes allow for more efficient feed absorption.
Part of the luncheon included the finalist teams making a 90-second elevator pitch to the audience for a chance to win an additional $2,000 for the two teams garnering the most votes from the audience. Ascend, a student team from John Brown University, won the elevator speech award for the small business group. Brady Collard, the team leader, told Talk Business & Politics his group opted for the all-in-one tree stand system for avid hunters that makes the hunting experience safer and more comfortable.
Ascend impressed the judges in the competition to take the first place $20,000 prize in the small business category. Collard is a ministry major and has already accepted a job at a church in San Angelo, Texas, upon graduation. The Waco, Texas-native said he plans to continue working on a prototype development for the hunting stand with his team members because he is an avid hunter. He said the stand will sell for around $700 and the cost to make it is $200. Collard said he was thrilled to have Charles Baldwin, former CEO of Cabela’s, as an advisor to the project.
Horizon Health Solutions, a team from the University of Arkansas, also won the elevator speech contest for the high growth/tech division. This team’s business seeks to help independent pharmacists with software that optimizes prescription medicine margins and offers market insight previously only available to large chain pharmacies. The team landed a $2,000 prize for the win.
GammaVet, a team from the University of Arkansas, was the first place winner in the high growth/tech division. Shanna Owens, a microbiologist and team member, said GammaVet is a veterinary diagnostics company focused on addressing viruses that attack cats. Owens told Talk Business & Politics the company has a patent for the diagnostic test that pharmacists can use to detect FcaGHV1, a virus in cats that produces cancer. She said the team has worked with local veterinary offices to get the blood samples they use to test their test prototype. The test will work like a rapid COVID home test or pregnancy test where the drop of blood is mixed into the test kit to see if a positive market is found.
Owens said the team will continue work on this business, raising more capital and studying the viruses that affect cats with a goal of improving feline health. GammaVet was awarded $20,000 for their first place win.
SECOND, THIRD PLACE WINNERS
The second place teams took home a $15,000 prize. CiphrX Biotechnologies, a team from the University of Arkansas, is developing genetic sequencing technology that can be used by hospitals to get same-day results and improve the speed at which doctors can get the genetic biomarkers of their patients to better plan their treatments for cancer
Bento, a team from the University of Arkansas, took home the second place $15,000 prize for the small business category. Bento has developed a digital menu platform that it plans to sell to restaurant owners. Toma Tomonari, team lead for the group, said the platform is a turnkey application that allows restaurants to add and delete menu items in real time, list sale features and better engage customers inside and out of the restaurant.
The third-place winners got $10,000 prizes to forward their business ventures. Orange Otter Toys, another team from the University of Arkansas took the prize for the small business category and Shock, also from the University of Arkansas, took third place in the high growth/tech division. Shock’s business is geared toward better feed conversions for chicken growers as feed comprises 70% of the cost raising a bird.