Big Money for Big Ideas
From Washington to Massachusetts University of Idaho student entrepreneurs win pitch competitions and cash prizes
Student entrepreneurs at the University of Idaho earned more than $100,000 in startup money at competitions across the country this spring.
George Tanner, director of Idaho Entrepreneurs at U of I’s College of Business and Economics (CBE), mentors startup teams as they raise seed money to take their projects from the idea stage to the prototype and manufacturing phases. These teams include students from majors across the university’s campus, and they compete for this money at tournaments from coast to coast.
“In the entrepreneurial circuit our teams are highly competitive, well-respected, and even a little feared whenever startup seed capital is in play,” Tanner said.
Spring 2019 was no exception.
Over 70 entrepreneurs made up the 23 startup teams participating in this year’s Startup Vandal competition. Each team gave their 90 second elevator pitch to judges made up of Vandal alumni and local business owners with the goal of winning prize money to advance their idea. Nate Fisher of Deary won first place for the NateGate, a pickup tailgate extender that lengthens the bed of a truck.
“This process taught me tons of stuff about the inception of an idea, to building a workable and scalable plan, to standing in front of people and convincing them how great the business opportunity is,” Fisher said. “It helped build my confidence from the start, but I also gained massive knowledge into this part of the business world.”
"In the entrepreneurial circuit our teams are highly competitive, well-respected, and even a little feared whenever startup seed capital is in play." George Tanner
U of I students began the season pitching their ideas and business plans to investors at the Draper Competition in Massachusetts and finished up in their own backyard at Idaho Pitch in Moscow. Along the way, Carli Erstrom and Emy Millican won a top prize for at the Northwest Entrepreneur Challenge in Spokane, Washington, for their Vandal Mobile Press.
“The press is a mobile crusher that allows farmers to extract oil from canola. The device saves farmers shipping costs and gives them access to the canola meal for livestock feed,” Millican said.
Both graduated with bachelor’s degrees from U of I this spring. Erstrom is from Vale, Oregon, and obtained degrees in agribusiness and marketing from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) and CBE. Millican grew up in Gooding and received animal science and agribusiness degrees from CALS.
“This experience taught me a lot of business skills I will use for the rest of my life,” Erstrom said. “I learned it pays off to be flexible and open to honest feedback. You can learn a lot from listening to other people’s thoughts and opinions.”
Erstrom will begin her career with J.R. Simplot Company as a raw procurement manager trainee working with potatoes. Millican plans to become a pulsed electromagnetic field therapy practitioner where she can perform physical therapy on horses.
“It’s my dream to start my own small business and continue to be an entrepreneur,” Millican said. “Going through the pitch process has put me ahead and I know that I can be successful in my career after college.”
Idaho Entrepreneurs, one of CBE’s Vandal Student Enterprises, brings together creative, innovative and hard-working students and faculty. Marc Chopin, CBE’s dean, believes U of I’s successes during this spring’s entrepreneurial competitions has once again proven such enterprises are a winning combination.
“Having spent several years engaged with startup companies and angel investors, I continue to be impressed by the quality of ideas, business plans, and professional, prize-winning pitches created by our students with guidance from their faculty mentors,” Chopin said.
Article by Ross Wulf, College of Business and Economics
Published in June 2019