The Proving Ground – Shark Tank Finale

‘Shark Tank’ finale for The Proving Ground set for March 29

The Proving Ground, is USC’s signature entrepreneurial competition. The community is invited to cheer students and alumni of the University of South Carolina as they compete for startup prizes and support on Thursday (March 29).

Six competitors will go head-to-head in the finale, which is free and open to the public. It starts at 6 p.m. in the W.W. Hootie Johnson Performance Hall at the Darla Moore School of Business.

Finalists were selected from a field of 40 business plan submissions by a team of seasoned entrepreneurs and business faculty members.

“The first-round of judging was very competitive,” says 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.”

Capturing the fast-paced pitch format of “Shark Tank,” The Proving Ground finale features competitors and judges on the stage together. The format features two finalists who compete for the winning spot in one of three categories.

Alex Smolen, founder of VuePeer, a peer-to-peer travel rentals portal, and a $20,000 winner in the 2015 Proving Ground competition pitches his concept to the judges. 

The $17,500 Maxient Innovation Prize goes to the competitor with the most innovative business concept that addresses an existing need or problem. This category is open to undergraduate students only. 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.” “Blue Chip AI,” offers Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions to businesses that manage large stores of data such as call centers and collection agencies. The generated strategies will optimize efficiency and cut costs by taking over traditionally manual processes.
  • Jason Thomas, senior finance student, will pitch his concept for “Sow Inc.” “Sow Inc.,” is a business entity that facilitates the delivery of fresh farm-to-table products. The interactive platform connects producers and customers within one interactive platform to promote timely, high-quality food deliveries. 

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

  • Matthew Testa is a mechanical engineering graduate student. “Kooler Wheels,” is a wheel system that allows a single person to transport the popular and often heavy Yeti brand Tundra coolers. The detachable stainless steel and nylon wheels allow coolers to be rolled along the ground rather than carried.
  • Tina Abbasi and Drew Ferguson are both third-year law students and the first law students to make it to the finals of The Proving Ground. “Navibās,” is a platform that aims to increase ease of access to emergency services at a densely-crowded event like a music festival. The platform aims to help individuals reach a medical tent or security personnel site even with minimal cellular service. 

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

  • Zachary Carlton graduated from the university in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. “Amoya-Agri,” is an existing pre-revenue agribusiness dedicated to the sustainable production of cash crops in East Africa. The company’s mission is to promote food security and abundance by supporting the small and mid-sized commercial farmer.
  • Mason Eckley is a senior computer science student. “Mudita U,” is a NCAA stat-tracking app that allows users to follow individual athletes using data feeds, aggregate viewing and customizable push notifications. Mudita U transforms the NCAA databases into a user-friendly mobile app that resembles popular social networking sites.

Each team has five minutes to pitch their ideas, followed by questions from the judges. The judges for this year’s final competition will be Aaron and Candice Hark, founders and owners of Maxient, and Jill Sorensen, director of SC Launch, a program of the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA).

Winning concepts will be chosen based on six criteria: problem, market, investment potential, distinctive competence, financial understanding and the entrepreneur’s viability.

“Our goal is to promote innovation and cultivate entrepreneurs. Winners have gone on to successfully bring their business ventures to market,” says Kress.

Dean H. Kress, Director
Faber Entrepreneurship Center
kress@sc.edu

 

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