Finalists chosen for The Proving Ground ‘Shark Tank’ style competition

Carolina students and the public are invited to watch and cheer entrepreneur teams who will pitch their innovative ideas in the “Shark Tank” style final competition of The Proving Ground Nov. 17 at the University of South Carolina.

The competition, which is free and open to the public, will be at 6 p.m. at the W.W. Hootie Johnson Performance Hall at the Darla Moore School of Business. In addition to judged categories, the event will include a Fan Favorite category, with the winner determined by the audience.

More than 50 entrants submitted an extensive business plan, and a team of experts reviewed the executive summary of each team’s business.

“The first round judging session was the best we have had in six years,” says Dean Kress, associate director of the Moore School’s Faber Entrepreneurship Center, who has directed the competition since its founding in 2009. “We have cool concepts and spirited discussions among the judges who took part.”

With the field narrowed down to five finalists for each award, entrepreneurs and business faculty thoroughly reviewed the plans and awarded points based on set criteria. The top two entrants in each category will move to the final competition on Nov. 17.

The $17,500 Maxient Innovative Prize awards undergraduate students for the most innovative business concept that focuses on an existing need or problem. For this category, only current Carolina undergraduate students could enter. The finalists are:

  • “Hauled,” a technology company offering a mobile app for junk removal. The app connects those looking to get rid of televisions, sofas and other unwieldy belongings with local pickup truck owners.
  • “Style Connect,” a company creating customized client relationship management software. This software will emphasize customer service and trust in the hair salon industry.

The $17,500 Avenir Discovery Prize is available to graduate and undergraduate students as well as recent alumni for the most innovative business concept that focuses on an existing need or problem. Carolina undergraduate students, graduate students and alumni who have graduated since May 2011 were eligible for this category. The finalists are:

  • “Tide Stop,” a storm water check valve to be placed on storm water infrastructure. The valve will stop water from entering the infrastructure during high tide events.
  • “Syndiyo,” a secure medical platform for patients and caregivers. Through this program, users consolidate medical records, keep current with medical research and participate in studies for medical conditions.

There also will be a Fan Favorite award. Two teams will compete and the audience will choose the winner of the $5,000 South Carolina Research Authority Technology Ventures Fan Favorite award.

These two teams will be “Beacon,” a mobile app that helps coordinate relief efforts during and after a natural disaster, and “Inspected,” a company offering in-depth background checks for users and providers of rental companies such as Airbnb and Uber.

During the final competition, the teams will have five minutes to present their idea, and then the judges will have five minutes to question the competitors. These questions can cover the concept, research, funding and future growth.

“Each team will have a pitch on PowerPoint,” Kress says. “And they may bring props, as is appropriate.”

The judges make their decision based on six criteria: problem, market, distinctive competence, financial understanding, investment potential and the team’s viability.

This year’s judges are Candice and Aaron Hark, Carolina graduates and founders of Maxient; Darrin Thomas, Carolina alumnus and founder of Black Pages USA, Inc; and Ambrose Schwallie, director of corporate development for the South Carolina Research Authority.

“We have some really cool concepts,” Kress says. “The finals are going to be great.”

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