The Burgess New Venture Challenge is an annual competition that highlights top student entrepreneurs and celebrates Michigan State University’s growing venture creation ecosystem. The third annual competition, held on April 1, set the bar high with students from six colleges presenting their innovations — which ranged from sustainable clothing to electric bikes — for a chance to win a share of up to $40,000 in cash prizes.
Of the 15 semifinalist and five finalist teams chosen by a panel of expert judges, the winner’s circle was dominated by Broad Spartans.
Brendan Wang, supply chain management junior, and Jake Roach, marketing senior, co-founders of CAPNOS, took home first place and $15,000 for CAPNOS Zero, a smokeless and nicotine-free product that mimics a vape while helping users quit.
“There are millions of us across the world who are struggling to quit our vaping addictions, but there is nothing on the market that is addressing what we are truly looking for,” Wang said.
In Wang’s survey of 1,000 people, two out of every three respondents said that they were craving the oral fixation that goes along with hitting a vape, which fuels the behavioral addiction. “For the past year, we’ve been focused on product development with our prototypes, to which our testers have seen a 50% reduction in vaping within the first week. Some have quit altogether,” he shared.
Second place and $10,000 was awarded to James Hamer, business-preference sophomore, founder of Picture It Staging.
“I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset, having started almost a dozen companies since I was in the sixth grade,” he shared. After seeing that real estate agents needed assistance on the virtual side of staging, Hamer took his idea and ran with it. “After two years of operation, we’ve seen great success working with real estate agents from all over the country, helping them sell their real estate listings faster and better.”
Third place and $5,000 went to INFKNIT Apparel, a sustainable clothing company founded by Jackie Smythe, supply chain management senior, and Olivia Miller, management senior.
“My co-founder and I started INFKNIT Apparel in 2018 while we were studying sustainability and entrepreneurship in Costa Rica,” Smythe said in a pitch video.
Smith and Miller found themselves having to go back to their rooms to change between day trips, which sparked their interest in creating a clothing company meant for people on the go. INFKNIT Apparel carries reversible dresses, shorts and T-shirts is best known for their long-sleeve shirts.
In addition, Raghunath Reddy Koilakonda, M.S. in Business Analytics student, co-founder and COO of TheFrameKart.com, won one of two winner’s choice awards and $1,000. TheFrameKart is one of the fastest-growing multinational online eyewear retailers, offering a variety of both high-quality precision designer and in-house brands.
“Uncorrected poor vision is the world’s largest unaddressed disability and a public health crisis today,” he said. “We are solving two problems: accessibility and affordability.”
Something that all teams had in common was their desire to make a difference. The Broad College encourages students to follow their creative spirit, which is how many Broad Spartans, like those in this year’s winner’s circle, have been so successful.
“Many of my classes have taught me crucial skills when it comes to working with other people, presentation skills and better understanding the functions of supply chain management,” Wang said.
Roach added, “Whether it be professors, alumni or other speakers that Broad brings in for various events, we have been able to cast a wide network of knowledgeable and experienced professionals who want to see CAPNOS succeed.”
Entrepreneurship is not easy, and you have to be able to persevere even when developing your idea seems impossible. Wang’s advice for future Spartan entrepreneurs is simple: “There’s no better time to start than now. If you have a vision and feel purposeful about your business, then get to work! Start validating your idea, build support and don’t be afraid to fail.”
To view the student pitch videos, see the winners’ announcement from the competition and more, visit the 2021 Burgess New Venture Challenge Vimeo page. To hear from the top three winning teams, listen to the latest episode of the Hatchcast or watch a special video edition of the podcast episode on Vimeo.