October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

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Seven ventures earn prizes at inaugural MSU $50K Venture Competition

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

Seven entrepreneurial ventures took home a share of more than $50,000 in prize money after participating in Montana State University’s inaugural $50K Venture Competition, which was held virtually last week in front of more than 150 people who watched online. The event featured seven finalists in the traditional venture category as well as seven finalists in the social venture category. It was hosted by the MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad.

“We were thrilled with the quality of participants and with our online audience in our inaugural MSU $50K Venture Competition,” said Mark Ranalli, dean of the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship. “Special thanks to MSU alumni Jake Jabs and Don Fisher for their very generous support and commitment to helping us engage our entrepreneurial community at MSU.”

The winners are listed below by category, place and prize amount:

Traditional ventures:

  • First place, $15,000: OptimaLabs Inc., which has developed a line of cell culture supplements to support cell growth better than serum, a blood product traditionally used for the purpose. The supplements contain no animal-derived components and eliminate contamination and variability issues associated with serum.
  • Second place, $6,000: NanoMagnetic Solutions, which offers a portable device allowing researchers to obtain accurate and reproducible data to streamline drug development from engineering to clinical testing.
  • Third place, $4,000: Agile Focus Designs, which provides accurate, agile and user-friendly tools for microscopists in manufacturing, science and health care.

Social ventures:

  • First place, $14,000: Freats LLC, which has developed a food sustainability app that connects college students with excess food from catered events on campus. The app is meant to reduce food waste while lowering the number of students experiencing food insecurity.
  • Second place, $6,000: The Ant Network, which aims to change how people think about insects to help solve biodiversity and education crises using online videos, museum and science center exhibits, and in-person presentations.
  • Third place, $4,000: Turtle Island Tales, a research-based monthly subscription box coupled with a web platform offering engaging resources for parents and children. The venture focuses on indigenous teachings for wellness in mind, body and spirit.

Judge’s Choice, $1,600:

  • PATH, which has partnered with women who have small farms in Kaffrine, Senegal, to develop a nutrition bar made of local crops. The award will cover the cost of an oven to create the nutrition bar, according to Edwin Allan, PATH lead and an MSU alumnus.

During the competition, the finalists pitched their ideas to a panel of three judges. Three judges participated each day, for a total of six judges. Judges included Susan Carstensen, founding partner of Yellowstone Growth Partners; Anne Meree Craig, co-founder and CEO of The COMMIT Foundation; Pat LaPointe, managing director of Frontier Angels; Liz Marchi, chief marketing officer of Two Bear Capital; Daren Nordhagen, co-founder of Foundant Technologies; and Julie Penner, venture partner at Next Frontier Capital.

“Everyone blew me away,” Nordhagen said of the participants. “Great passion, great ideas. I love niche markets, and these are certainly some niche markets I would have never thought of or almost all of them. But yet, they are big, real opportunities.”

Joaquin Monterrosa, a business student at MSU and co-founder of Freats, said winning first place in the social venture category was exciting and will have a real impact on his work.

“The support from this competition, from Jake Jabs and from the LaunchPad has provided our undergraduate team with the confidence and capital to launch our venture full-scale,” Monterrosa said. “I can’t wait to see what kind of impact we can have.”

The 14 finalists who participated in the competition were selected from among 29 entries submitted by MSU students, faculty, staff and recent alumni. Information about each of the 14 participating ventures is available at montana.edu/news/19882.

The Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship offers four undergraduate options of study – accountingfinancemanagement and marketing – as well as five minors – accounting, business administration, entrepreneurship and small business management, finance, and international business. It also offers a master of professional accountancy degreeMaster of Science in innovation and management, a business certificate and entrepreneurship certificate. Last fall, the college reported an enrollment of 1,569 students.

MSU’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars aims to help MSU students succeed in entrepreneurship and in their careers. Housed in the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and open to all students and recent alumni in all majors, the campus-based LaunchPad enables participants to access mentoring, grow their network and access resources to accelerate the success of their business.

Source: Seven ventures earn prizes at inaugural MSU $50K Venture Competition

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