West Virginia University students will have the opportunity to foster entrepreneurship in the state, after bringing home the top spots in all three categories at the 2017 West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Competition on April 21.
Winners of the 11th annual competition are Keith Heisler, a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, majoring in aerospace engineering in the WVU Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources with his business, H2OLD IT; Matthew Byrd, a native of Ritchie County, and a wildlife and fisheries resources sophomore in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, with his business, Byrds and Bees Honey; and Brandon Lucke-Wold from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Zachary Wright from Bridgeport, dual M.D./Ph.D. students in the WVU School of Medicine with their business, SwifTag Systems.
The three winning teams were announced following three rounds of competition that spanned the entire academic year. A record 303 entries were submitted in this year’s West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition from a record-tying 15 West Virginia colleges and universities. The competition is hosted by the WVU BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“This was a record year for the business plan competition. As the judges deliberated, it was apparent that the decision-making was incredibly challenging because of the quality of business concepts and plans presented,” Julia Bolt, assistant director of the BrickStreet Center, which is housed in the WVU College of Business and Economics said. “The final round was another step for each of these teams toward the success of their viable businesses. We want them to know we are here to support not only the winners, but all participants in the competition as they grow the business landscape of our state.”
A panel of judges from across the country heard presentations from five competing teams in each of three categories. The categories include Lifestyle and Innovation, Hospitality and Tourism, and STEM.
Heisler claimed the victory in the Lifestyle and Innovation category with H2OLD IT, which provides innovative luxury products for living environments. The products provide comfort while also conserving natural resources and providing financial savings.
Byrd, who also made it to the final round of the competition in 2016, won the Hospitality and Tourism category with Byrds and Bees Honey. It is focused on producing high quality, great tasting, small-batch honey in West Virginia. Through ethical beekeeping practices, the company is committed to not only supplying quality honey, but also helping the declining bee population.
Lucke-Wold and Wright, with SwifTag Systems, won the STEM division of the competition. SwifTag Systems is the leader in laboratory animal tagging, tracking, and inventory. Using custom designed RFID technology, SwifTag has revolutionized how laboratory animals are tagged and tracked for pharmaceutical experiments. The system can save companies money each year by reducing paid man hours required for tagging and inventory of animals and eliminates errors in choosing the wrong animal for experiments.
“I wanted to solve a problem that happens in everyday life. I knew I could find a solution. People expend a lot of water resources waiting for their shower to warm up, so I created a product that redirects that cold water to be recycled. You don’t have to wait for your shower to warm up, and plus you’re saving energy and valuable resources,” Heisler said. “With the competition being over, I’m at the bottom of the hill now. It’s time to get out there, start the LLC and begin small-batch manufacturing to sell my product.”
“I made it to the finals as a freshman, and I knew I could do better, so I entered again this year. This year, I focused more on my financials and marketing, which was a lacking component from last year. I spent more time with the numbers, figuring out how many more hives I could have with the acreage I own and what the nectar sources were,” Byrd said. “I also focused on helping the declining bee population by increasing the hives I have and working on a good type of genetics, where my bees will be healthier and won’t require as much treatment. I want to create a healthier bee climate in the state of West Virginia.”
“I think the key word for entrepreneurship in West Virginia is growth. The idea is to bring industries into the state that weren’t here before. I think WVU specifically has been extremely helpful,” Wright said. “[Winning the business plan competition] is a really great feeling. I felt like we had a strong presentation and covered everything we needed to do, and then hearing our names – my heart was racing. We are really excited about the funding from the competition because it will get us that much closer to getting our product to market.”
More college students in West Virginia are participating in the statewide business plan competition than ever before, as the widespread initiative to propel entrepreneurship in the Mountain State seems popular among state colleges and universities. Student teams compete for the $10,000 first prize in each category, as well as accounting and legal services. The winning teams must turn their ideas into valid West Virginia businesses in a designated amount of time.
All indications from the state’s collegiate community are that students have business ideas they want to share.
“The role of entrepreneurship in higher education and in West Virginia’s statewide economy is undeniable,” Bolt said. “All of the students who have participated in the competition have undergone an incredible learning experience, and it’s certainly our hope that they undertake an entrepreneurial venture in our state. They make West Virginia’s business landscape that much stronger.”
Participating schools in the 2016-17 West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition include Alderson Broaddus University, Bethany College, Bluefield State College, Concord University, Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, New River Community and Technical College, Potomac State College of West Virginia University, Shepherd University, University of Charleston, West Liberty University, West Virginia State College, West Virginia University, West Virginia University Institute of Technology and West Virginia Wesleyan College.
The business plan competition has awarded more than $330,000 in prizes since it went to a statewide format more than a decade ago.