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Winners collect $90,000 in prizes at USC’s Proving Ground

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Staff Report
Published Nov. 19, 2015

Vuepeer has won the $20,000 Maxient Innovation Prize for best business concept at the University of South Carolina’s sixth annual Proving Ground startup competition.

Vuepeer and winners of three other prize categories were announced Tuesday night following a three-month, three-round competition culminating with a live-pitch event at the Darla Moore School of Business.

Eight teams competed for nearly $90,000 in prize money and startup support. Each team was given five minutes during the finale to present their ideas to the judges and the live audience, with the judges having five minutes to ask questions.

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Vuepeer is a tech company focused on providing consumers with the best deals on a variety of rental vehicles. Alex Smolen, a senior accounting major, and Jessica Hart, a senior marketing major, pitched the service.

“This has been an amazing process. I’ve learned so much from it and am very grateful for this opportunity,” Smolen said. “Now that we’ve won, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

In second place was team Crunchwall, which won $2,500. Crunchwall is a mobile platform where students can connect with organizations they’re involved with on campus to provide better communication and coordination.

Winning the $20,000 Avenir Discovery Prize for best business concept was Brevino. Founded by Ian Mackintosh, a 2013 IMBA graduate, Brevino is a product that keeps large bottled drinks such as wine, sparkling water and beer chilled for hours.

Taking second place in the Avenir category was team ASSET, which was awarded $2,500. ASSET is a technology enhancement to existing security systems that allows intruders to be tracked in real-time on mobile devices.

Rounding out the major prizes was Koios, which won the $17,500 Fluor Social Impact Prize. The Fluor award goes to the team that best addresses a social or environmental problem. Koios, founded by Trey Gordner, a 2013 international business graduate, is a browser extension that connects with local libraries to notify users when movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks and other resources become available in libraries.

Second place in the Fluor category went to Carolina Community Farm and Garden, which won $2,500. The service consists of a hydroponics system that provides fresh, local and organically grown produce, including lettuce and basil, to USC’s dining services, local Columbia restaurants and the Columbia community.

The SCRA Technology Ventures Fan Favorite Prize of $4,000 went to thinkINK, a greeting card system that allows customers to create customized printed cards with personalized greetings in their own handwriting that are mailed for them. The concept is the brainchild of Sarah Fissette, a PMBA student.

Runner-up Bonjuo won $2,500 for its language learning and social application that helps students who are studying abroad learn a foreign language.

All winners in the competition were awarded an affiliate membership in the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator.

In its sixth year, The Proving Ground has come a long way. Since its launch, the total prize package has grown from $3,000 to $89,000. This year marked the first time that prizes were awarded to runner-ups.

Presenting sponsors this year include the Moore School’s Faber Entrepreneurship Center, EngenuitySC and the university’s Office of Economic Engagement.

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