Gamecock finalists to pitch startup ideas for nearly $90,000 in The Proving Ground

Several teams of young entrepreneurs will pitch their startup ideas to business leaders in the final round of The Proving Ground competition Tuesday (Nov. 17) at the University of South Carolina.

The Proving Ground, the university’s annual entrepreneurial challenge, will take place at 6 p.m. in the W.W. Hootie Johnson Performance Hall at the Darla Moore School of Business. Each year, the competition has attracted record crowds.

“It’s been a really amazing experience watching students learn and grow from their involvement in The Proving Ground,” says Dean Kress, associate director of the Moore School’s Faber Entrepreneurship Center who has directed the competition since its founding in 2009. “They’ve been able to get feedback on their concept so that they can really take it to the next level. I believe the community is really getting behind the idea of supporting local startups and hopefully we see that excitement on Tuesday night when these finalists duke it out onstage for the top prize.”

Teams will pitch their business concepts to a panel of judges in front of a live audience. Modeled after the popular TV show “Shark Tank,” the budding entrepreneurs will join the judges — all startup and innovation experts — on stage where they will do their best to convince the panel that their startup idea is the best.

The teams selected for the finale will compete in one of three prize categories.

The $20,000 Maxient Innovation Prize will be awarded to the team with the best business concept. The runner-up will receive $2,500. Undergraduate students are eligible for this prize. The finalists are:

  • “Crunchwall,” a mobile platform where students can connect with organizations they’re involved with on campus to provide greater connectivity and better communication among university organizations.
  • “Vuepeer,” a tech company focused on providing consumers with the best deals on a variety of rental vehicles.

The $20,000 Avenir Discovery Prize will be awarded to the team with the best business concept. The runner-up will receive $2,500. Graduate and undergraduate students as well as alumni who graduated in the last five years (since May 2010) are eligible for this prize. The finalists are:

  • “ASSET,” a technology resource that works with existing security systems to track intruders in real-time on mobile devices.
  • “Brevino,” a business that provides a bottle cooler for large format beer and wine bottles. This iceless cooler keeps a chilled bottle cold for hours while preventing dripping and condensation.

The $17,500 Fluor Social Impact Prize will be awarded to the team that addresses a social or environmental problem. The runner-up will receive $2,500. Graduate or undergraduate students as well as alumni who graduated in the last five years (since May 2010) are eligible for this prize. The finalists are:

  • “Koios,” a Web browser extension that connects with local libraries to notify users when movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, video games and other resources they have searched for online become available in the libraries.
  • “Carolina Community Farm and Garden,” a hydroponics system that provides fresh, local and organically grown lettuce and basil to UofSC’s Dining services, local Columbia restaurants and the Columbia community.

The SCRA Technology Ventures Fan Favorite Prize features teams with the two highest scoring plans that did not make the finals of the first three categories. For this prize, the two teams will pitch the audience, with the winning team awarded $4,000 and the runner-up receiving $2,000. The competing teams are:

  • “Bonjuo,” a language learning application that puts a social twist into studying a foreign language.
  • “thinkINK,” a greeting card system that offers an advanced mailing service with a diverse palette of customization options so that greetings reflect a sender’s personal style.

All winners in The Proving Ground will be awarded an affiliate membership in the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator, with support services valued at $5,000.

Judges this year include Kevin Culley, senior director of innovation at Under Armour, and Greg Clark, vice president of emerging technologies of SCRA Technology Ventures, who will join returning judges alumni Aaron and Candice Hark, founders ofMaxient and Nancy Grden, principal of Avenir Consulting.

In its sixth year, The Proving Ground competition has grown from $3,000 in cash prizes and startup support to nearly $90,000. Each year, the competition is held during Global Entrepreneurship Week, an annual observance to unleash new ideas to drive economic growth and improve human welfare worldwide.

Presenting sponsors of The Proving Ground 2015 include the Moore School’s Faber Entrepreneurship Center, EngenuitySC and the university’s Office of Economic Engagement. 

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