ISU students competing at the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge in Boise last month came home with over $30,000 to fund their business ideas.
Four teams from ISU won a first place prize, two runners-up prizes and a best marketing display prize.
“Competitions like the IEC challenge the student to think about all aspects of starting a company,” said Jeff Street, director of ISU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. “This is from idea generation to valuation of the company five to 10 years in the future when investors come calling … covering all the bases, from technology to operations to funding. This is how it happens in the real world.”
The challenge invited Idaho students to submit proposals for business ideas. Finalists traveled to Boise to present their proposals to judges and compete for over $100,000 in prizes provided by Zions Bank.
Proposals fell into four categories: Health and Healthy Living, Agriculture/Agriculture Technology, Social Cultural Environmental and Tech/Consumer Product/Service.
ISU’s first-place winner swept the Agriculture/Agriculture Technology category.
Wynderhub, created by Colby Borup, Miguel Rangel, EJ Lopez, Morgan Rasmussen and Mike Day, is a tool that eases wire fence maintenance. Its proposal secured $15,300 in seed money to take Wynderhub from an idea to reality.
In the largest category, Tech/Consumer Product/Service, two ISU students were awarded runner-up for their itemized storage service, SpareSpace.
Engineering and marketing student Jonny Henderson and nursing junior Timothy Mohlke, together with Gonzaga junior Jeff Wheadon, won $6,300 for their proposal at the IEC. Henderson and Mohlke presented their SpareSpace proposal to three panels of judges.
“Your presentation skills are almost as important as your idea because if you can’t convey your idea to someone else, they’re not going to buy it,” Henderson said. “We can sell them on our personality because we already put so much sweat equity into our idea.”
The first spark of SpareSpace ignited in a Gonzaga classroom last year. When Wheadon, a computer science major at the university, thought up an idea for itemized storage targeted at college students, he contacted his longtime friend, Henderson.
When Henderson and Mohlke decided to enter the challenge, they floated a few ideas. But when Wheadon mentioned SpareSpace to Henderson, they knew they’d found a potentially winning project.
Henderson pitched SpareSpace to mentors the next day.
The three began meeting via Google Hangouts and met together once in Boise before the competition. They crafted a proposal, submitted it, then began preparing for the in-person proposal, where they were declared finalists.
Though Wheadon wasn’t able to pitch his own idea at the challenge, he knew SpareSpace was in good hands.
“I was pretty stoked when I got the text from Jonny saying we got runner-up,” he said. “I knew we had an awesome business model and that Tim and Jonny were going to rock the pitch.”
That process will begin this summer, when the team will beta-test the project with a small group of students.
The service’s appeal, Henderson said, lies in its convenience and affordability. SpareSpace picks up items, then plays its own game of Tetris to fit items in storage. Cost depends on the size of the item.
SpareSpace addresses a need for low-cost, low-stress storage for college students who leave town or lack room in dorms.
Though developing the service is made somewhat difficult by the team’s geographical distance and packed schedules, Henderson, Mohlke and Wheadon hope to expand their startup over the coming years.
“I am very proud of the work Jonny and Tim did at Boise State,” Wheadon said. “It was a bummer I wasn’t there to experience the atmosphere of the busy day, but I’m excited to see what the three of us can do with this business over the next couple of years.”
Camie Parsons and Gabby Kane also secured $6,300 for their Health and Healthy Living idea, iuveni Duality. Thomas Brumpton and Jared Cantrell of Turtle Back Technology won a $1,550 prize for their tabletop display.
After submitting their initial proposals, 25 finalists were selected to participate in the state competition in Boise. The finalists attended workshops, social events and three rounds of pitch-and-questioning sessions.
After months of development, all that was left for the team was selling the idea. And sell it they did: ISU students’ pockets are now lined with over 30 grand to bring their businesses to life.
While CEED and other campus mentors offered assistance with the teams’ proposals, said Street, it was the students that took charge and formulated their business models, ultimately winning funding.
“CEED’s role was simply as a platform of support by offering resources, coaching and advice,” Street said. “As always, it is the passion and talent of the entrepreneur that makes the idea a success.”