Business-plan teams from the University of Arkansas and John Brown University dominated the 2012 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup Wednesday in downtown Little Rock.
JBU teams took home five of 12 awards at the event, including the top two prizes in the overall undergraduate division, while UA teams swept the top three places in the overall graduate division. Teams from JBU and the UA took home top honors at last year’s competition as well.
The top two finishers in both the undergrad and graduate divisions will represent the state next month at the DWR Tri-State Governor’s Cup in Las Vegas that pits business-plan winners from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nevada.
The Arkansas event is presented by the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation, a division of Arkansas Capital Corporation. Gov. Mike Beebe usually presides over the event, but currently is in China promoting trade. John Tyson of Tyson Foods served as event chair.
Winners represented a wide array of concepts. Simpler Solutions of JBU (home paint sampler) won the undergraduate division and a $25,000 cash prize; JBU’s Hydrovate (cattle watering system) won second place and $15,000 in prize money, while Vita Intelligent Labels of Harding University (labels that warn of expired food) took third and $10,000.
Boston Mountain Biotech from the UA (protein manufacturing and purification) took home top honors in the graduate division, which included the same cash prizes as the undergrads; UA’s SpatiaLink Solutions (retail supply chain software) won second, and third place went to Learning DifferentiatED (GED preperation software) from the Fayetteville campus.
The Elevator Pitch
Awards for best 90-second elevator pitch were determined by audience members among the 800 or so who packed the Wally Allen Ballroom of the Statehouse Convention Center and texted their votes through SMS services provided by Little Rock’s Sumotext. Pitch winners were Hydrovate and SpatiaLink.
Awards for best business plans related to agriculture were given to Hydrovate, and in the graduate division, Cam Ah Co from Arkansas State University (camelina off-season crop program). Innovation awards were presented to Vita of Harding (undergrad) and Innovative Athletic Solutions of JBU (athletic equipment performance enhancer).
Boston Mountain co-founder, chief scientific officer and pitch presenter Ellen Brune said the momentum from her firm’s business-plan success will help launch the startup. BMB is one of three UA startups that have qualified for Venture Labs, the "Super Bowl" of business-plan competitions, an unprecedented accomplishment.
"This is really encouraging," she said. "I want this to be a reality and not just a class project. This is a feasible project."
Innovate Arkansas advisor and startup nurturer Jeff Amerine, technology licensing officer and entrepreneurship instructor at the UA, praised the quality of concepts presented Wednesday.
"It’s fantastic, again, to see such a variety of concepts and the breadth of the schools involved," he said.
Amerine praised the recent dominance of teams from John Brown, a private, Christian school in Siloam Springs of about 2,000 students.
Governor’s Cup semifinalists and finalists represented the following schools: Arkansas, John Brown, Harding, ASU, the University of Central Arkansas, Ouachita Baptist University, Hendrix College, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of the Ozarks.
The Tri-State Governor’s Cup (consisting of teams from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nevada because that’s where the Donald W. Reynolds media empire once thrived) is set for May 22-24. Arkansas teams historically have fared well there. Simpler Solutions, Hydrovate, Boston Mountain and SpatiaLink will represent Arkansas this year.
UA startup mentor Carol Reeves, who has become something of a legendary figure in her field, believes all the Arkansas teams will represent the state well. Of her UA teams, she said the expectation now is to win.
"In national competitions, they’ll post brackets like the basketball tournaments," she said. "People used to see Arkansas in a bracket and think they could easily advance. Now, they see Arkansas and think, ‘Oh, no.’"