Feature Stories

Developing young entrepreneurs

Students from across Georgia and throughout the nation will be converging on the University of Georgia for two events that give young entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their business and consumer brand concepts to a panel of investors and advisers for $35,000 in prize money.

UGA's Next Top Entrepreneur competition, in which eight student teams will compete in front of a live audience for a $10,000 prize, will be held on March 30, with the presentations beginning at 5 p.m. in the Rialto Room of Hotel Indigo in Athens.

The inaugural Collegiate Next Great Consumer Brands Competition, in which 10 teams will compete for a $25,000 award and an all expenses paid trip to attend Next Great Consumer Brands Conference in New York City, will be held on April 7. The reception, which is open to the public, begins at 5:30 p.m. in The Foundry of the Graduate Athens hotel. Presentations from the three top teams begin at 7 p.m. and will be followed by an announcement of the winning team.

Both events are part of a broader effort at the University of Georgia to nurture the entrepreneurial talents of students, and they are a part of Athens' first Start-Up Week and UGA's long-running Thinc. Week.

"These competitions are going to shine a spotlight not just on UGA but on Athens and the state of Georgia as a place where new businesses and products take root and grow," said Bob Pinckney, UGA's director of entrepreneurial programs. "Students will be able to hone their skills in presenting their business idea, will gain honest and objective feedback on their ideas from business leaders and investors, and will get a chance to compete on a national stage for some significant seed money to pursue their business dream."

The Next Top Entrepreneur competition was first held in 2009 but this year has been expanded to include student startups of all types from across the state and nation. Participating startup companies include MiraBlue Bio, which was founded by UGA students and has created a capsule technology for the delivery of pharmaceuticals and nutraceutical products; Bacon's Heir, an artisan pork product company founded by a Georgia Tech student; and Recordly, a University of Missouri startup that has created a transcription app for journalists.

The Collegiate Next Great Consumer Brands Competition, which is being held in partnership with Consensus Advisors and NASDAQ, is focused on new and innovative products. In addition to taking home a $25,000 prize, the winning collegiate team will attend the Next Great Consumer Brands Conference. The annual event, held at NASDAQ in Times Square, has helped grow companies ranging from KIND Snacks to EvoShield Protective Gear.

The Collegiate Next Great Consumer Brands Competition at UGA will include Proxy Server, a UGA student startup that has created a mobile app to encrypt Internet connections; ThinkBoard, a Babson College student startup that has created a clear film that turns smooth surfaces into dry erase boards; and EZXS Accessorie, an Auburn student startup that has created a backpack accessory that allows users to pivot their bags to the front without removing the shoulder straps.

Pamela Whitten, UGA's senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, noted that the new and expanded business competitions are part of a broader effort to prepare students for success after graduation.

Beginning fall 2016, all UGA students will be required to participate in an internship, study abroad, service-learning, research or other form of experiential learning prior to graduation. Fall 2016 also marks the launch of UGA's campus-wide Entrepreneurship Certificate Program, which is housed in the Terry College of Business but open to students of any major who are interested in launching and growing businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Thinc. Week, which is sponsored by UGA's Office of the Vice President for Research, includes panel discussions, workshops and a 48-hour game development competition, many of which are in partnership with Athens' inaugural Startup Week. Events hosted by UGA's Entrepreneurship Program are being sponsored by Wargo French, Wells Fargo, TPG Growth, Monroe Capital, Founders Legal and Brighton Partners.

"UGA's annual economic impact on Georgia is nearly $4.4 billion, and we are committed to taking that figure to a higher level," Whitten said. "By creating new hands-on learning opportunities and strengthening our ties with the business community, we benefit students as well as Georgia's economy."

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