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The Proving Ground finale set for Thursday

Staff Report //March 23, 2018//

The Proving Ground finale set for Thursday

Staff Report //March 23, 2018//

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Six finalists will compete head-to-head in the finale of the University of South Carolina’s The Proving Ground competition on Thursday.

The finale, free and open to the public, starts at 6 p.m. in the W.W. Hootie Johnson Performance Hall at the Darla Moore School of Business.

A team of entrepreneurs and business faculty members narrowed field a of 40 business plan submissions to six.

“The first round of judging was very competitive,” said Dean Kress, associate director of the Moore School’s Faber Entrepreneurship Center. “We have very intriguing concepts, and there was a lot of discussion between the competition judges. The audience for the finale will see some very cool business ideas.”

Competitors will pitch their ideas to judges in a fast-paced format reminiscent of the TV show “Shark Tan. Two finalists in three categories will go head-to-head, with winners chosen based on six criteria: problem addressed, market, investment potential, distinctive competence, financial understanding and the entrepreneur’s viability.

The finale judges are Aaron and Candice Hark, founders and owners of Maxient, and Jill Sorensen, director of SC Launch, a program of the South Carolina Research Authority.

The $17,500 Maxient Innovation Prize, open to undergraduates, goes to the competitor with the most innovative business concept that addresses an existing need or problem. The finalists:

  • Chris McKinney, senior computer science major, and Hanna Lamm, senior management science major, combined their business and engineering backgrounds to come up with Blue Chip AI. The concept offers strategies to improve efficiency and cut costs by taking over traditionally manual process for businesses that manage large amounts of data, such as call centers and collection agencies.
  • Jason Thomas, a senior finance student, developed a concept for Sow Inc., an interactive platform that connects producers of farm-to-table products to customers.

The $17,500 Avenir Discovery Prize, open to undergraduate and graduate students and alumni from the past five years, is also awarded to the most innovative business concept that addresses an existing need or problem. The finalists:

  • Mechanical engineering graduate student Matthew Testa developed “Kooler Wheels,” a system that allows a single person to transport the popular but heavy Yeti brand Tundra coolers. The detachable stainless steel-and-nylon wheels allow coolers to be rolled rather than carried.
  • Third-year law students Tina Abbasi and Drew Ferguson, the first law students to reach The Proving Ground finals, “Navibās,” a platform that helps individuals reach a medical tent or security personnel even with minimal cellular service at a crowded event such as a music festival. 

The $5,000 SCRA Technology Ventures Fan Favorite Prize is chosen by The Proving Ground finale audience. Finalists in this category represent the two highest-scoring business plans from the other categories that did not make the finals. The finalists:

  • Zachary Carlton, a 2015 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, will pitch his concept, Amoya-Agri, is an existing pre-revenue agribusiness dedicated to the sustainable production of cash crops in East Africa.
  • Senior computer science student Mason Eckley will pitch Mudita U, a NCAA stat-tracking app that allows users to follow individual athletes using data feeds, aggregate viewing and customizable push notifications.