Utah Entrepreneur Challenge

Student Startups Compete for Top Honors

Ali Hardy | Photos courtesy of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute Jul 1, 2019

Student startups from a range of industries were awarded cash and prizes at the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge showcase and awards ceremony on March 30. From medical equipment to artificial snow — there was no shortage of ideas, innovations and solutions. 

The annual business competition gathered students from colleges and universities across Utah to compete for more than $100,000, including a $40,000 grand prize. This year, 153 applicants from 10 colleges vied for an opportunity to be selected as one of 20 teams to attend the showcase at the University of Utah and pitch their ventures to competition judges.

“The 2019 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge was a big success,” said Parker Andriese, a University of Utah student and chair of the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge. “We had a wide range of teams in different fields in our top 20, which made for exciting pitching on competition day.”

The Utah Entrepreneur Challenge is managed by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, a division of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, and sponsored by Zions Bank.

group of Snow College student award winners
Snow College students Cole Ruby and Kyle DeGraw of DeGraw Custom are congratulated by Parker Andriese, Emily Reichmann and Trent Christensen.

Top Innovations

This year’s $5,000 third-place prize was awarded to a team from Snow College: DeGraw Custom, a metal fabrication company producing high-quality custom-welded agriculture products, including a portable bale feeder that wastes less hay, keeps feed off the ground and is safer for livestock.

The second place and $10,000 prize winner was SHERO, a startup offering a 100% biodegradable feminine hygiene pad. Developed by three female University of Utah material science and engineering students, SHERO’s menstrual pads completely biodegrade within six months of disposal.

The grand prize $40,000 winner was Brigham Young University team Thrive Smart Systems, who developed a completely wireless irrigation sprinkler system, eliminating the need for battery-operated controllers. The student team interviewed hundreds of landscapers to identify a pain point they could solve in the landscaping industry.

Thrive Smart Systems plans to use their winnings to further grow and develop the business. “The grand prize of $40,000 will go right back into the company, especially into developing the technology that sets Thrive apart,” said Seth Bangerter, co-founder and CEO. “We anticipate the funds will be used to move our product into the beta phase and eventually have contractors implement the sprinkler system in the ground by this June.”

Aislynn Edwards, co-founder and chief design officer, said, “Today has taught us that people believe in our idea and that motivates us to continue to push through to the next step.”

award winners from Blue and White Collar
Speed Pitch and Sustainable Business Award winners Lizzi and Ben Perkins of Blue and White Collar are congratulated by Lassonde Executive Director Troy d'Ambrosio and Challenge Judge Chad Anselmo.

A Priceless Experience

Many student teams remarked that even if they didn’t win the grand prize, the experience was valuable.

Blue and White Collar, a Utah Valley University startup founded by brother and sister duo Ben and Lizzi Perkins, may not have won top honors but they still walked away with $6,000 in other awards. Their business combines fashion, function and sustainability by designing and producing men’s performance dress shirts made of polyester from upcycled water bottles.

The pitching competition — which is done ABC’s “Shark Tank”-style in front of a judging team of 40 community experts and industry professionals across several rounds — can be just as precious to participants as the prize money. “We got a lot of great feedback, and I have a whole pocketful of business cards,” said Lizzi Perkins. “The judges and everyone here at the competition are so willing to help.”

All 20 teams received an awards packet, which included $500 cash and prizes from Zions Bank and other sponsors, including banking, networking and mentorship support. Zions Bank is committed to enhancing Utah’s entrepreneurial ecosystem because small businesses create jobs, strengthen communities and make enormous contributions to the local economy.

2019 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge Winners

  • Grand Prize Award ($40,000): Thrive Smart Systems
  • Second Place ($10,000): SHERO
  • Third Place ($5,000): DeGraw Custom
  • Emerging Entrepreneur Award ($2,000): True Adherence
  • Emerging Entrepreneur Award ($2,000): NALZA
  • Best Speed Pitch Award ($1,000): Blue and White Collar
  • Sustainable Business Award ($5,000): SHERO
  • Sustainable Business Award ($5,000): Blue and White Collar
  • Technology Award ($3,000): DeGraw Custom
  • Bootstrap Award ($2,000): DeGraw Custom
  • Prototype Award ($1,000): Freyya
  • Best Video Award ($1,000): Quantum Snow
  • People’s Choice Showcase Award ($1,000): Beacon Sleep Solutions
  • People’s Choice Online Vote ($1,000): Desert Oak Phototherapy
man makes a pitch to sell his idea
Seth Bangerter of Thrive Smart Systems makes the Speed Pitch for its unique wireless sprinkler system.
guys explain their business concept to a man
University of Utah atmospheric science students Peter Veals and Trey Alvey of Quantum Snow explain their product to local business professionals at the competition expo.
Three women accept an entrepreneur award
SHERO's team of Amelia Heiner, Amber Barron and Aruna Dhungel receive the $10,000 Second Place prize sponsored by Zions Bank for their sustainable and biodegradable feminine hygiene products.

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