Teams of Montana State University students shone at a business startup competition held recently in Missoula, with one team placing first in the competition and two of the teams collectively taking home nearly half of the available prize money.
The students were competing at the annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge, held April 13 at the University of Montana. Four schools were represented at the competition: MSU, Carroll College, Montana Tech and the University of Montana.
The four MSU teams that competed included Cowboy Cricket Farms, which farms bugs for human consumption; Farmented, which offers a line of fermented foods in order to help address food waste issues; Sirberus, which manufactures a patent-pending door-breaching device used by law enforcement officers and first responders; and Darktwin Studios, a company that builds video games focused on decision-based storytelling.
Les Craig, director of the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad who for three years has coached teams of MSU students competing in the challenge, said he was impressed with the depth of the competition from across the state. He added that the strength of the competition made the MSU students’ accomplishments even more impressive.
“Multiple judges and coaches expressed to me how impressed they were with our teams this year,” Craig said. “MSU finalists should be extremely proud of their accomplishments, and I’m excited to watch them ride this momentum into growing their businesses this summer.”
Cowboy Cricket Farms took first place in the competition and also earned the People’s Choice Award, the Intent to Launch Award and the Manufactured Product Award. Farmented received the Athena Award, the Polymath Award and overall honorable mention. For their efforts, the two teams collectively earned a total of $26,000 out of $53,000 available in price money.
Kathleen Rolin founded Cowboy Cricket Farms in 2016. Rolin, who is a sophomore studying dietetics, said she and her husband, James, who presented with her at the competition, learned a great deal from the experience.
“We gained an invaluable amount of information through both peer and judge feedback,” Rolin said. “We have been able to take this information and focus on filling the gaps in our business.”
Students who presented Farmented at the competition included Vanessa Bakken, a senior studying business marketing; Vanessa Walsten, a senior studying sustainable food systems; and Jessie Madeson, a senior in graphic design.
Students Matt Brownlow, a senior studying business management and marketing, Will Krolick, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, and Zach Wright, a junior studying business management, pitched their startup Sirberus.
Finally, Darktwin Studios was presented by Waylon Roberts, a junior in computer science; Austin Boutin, a senior in computer science; and Karl Bradenburg, a University of Montana student.
Craig and Trevor Huffmaster, director of the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad’s 406 Labs program, mentored and coached the four MSU teams. Adjunct business instructors Peter Nalen and Garrett Brucker assisted in coaching.
Craig noted that all four student teams received support from the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad, which offers coaching, ideation and venture creation support for students, alumni and faculty, as well as support from the MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
The MSU JJCBE offers four undergraduate options of study, including accounting, finance, management and marketing, as well as five minors, including accounting, business administration, entrepreneurship and small business management, finance and international business. The college also offers a master of professional accountancy degree, a business certificate and entrepreneurship certificate. For more information, visit http://www.montana.edu/business/index.html.