Video game advertising venture wins big at 20th annual Business Plan Competition

Members of the y255 venture team.
y255 venture team wins Herbert B. Jones Foundation $15,000 grand prize at 20th annual WSU Business Plan Competition.

Innovative business software solutions and mobile app technology for social good were collective themes presented at Washington State University’s 20th annual Business Plan Competition Thursday, April 27.

The big winner was y255, walking away with the Herbert B. Jones $15,000 grand prize. 

An advertising agency founded by David Barr, y255 helps businesses advertise to Gen Z through video games. Barr and teammate Andrew Overaa will help companies create product placement marketing within tailored, in-game experiences.

Student teams presented their business ideas and competed for cash and in-kind prizes totaling $86,000 at the competition, hosted by the WSU Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE).  

Three hundred forty-six students from seven WSU colleges, five universities, and six high schools across Washington and Idaho formed 123 venture teams that competed in three different leagues. More than 120 entrepreneurs, investors, and industry leaders joined virtually and in person to judge the competition.

Venture teams in the Open League participated in two fully virtual rounds: a screening round and final presentations on Friday, April 21. Teams in the WSU College League and High School League competed virtually in preliminary screening rounds where the final five teams in each league advanced to the in-person finals hosted on the WSU Pullman campus, Thursday, April 27.

Winners celebrated; awards and big checks presented at annual awards banquet

The winning teams from all three leagues were invited to an awards banquet immediately following the WSU and High School Leagues’ final presentations. Emmy award-winning TV journalist and WSU alum Nikki Torres served as master of ceremonies for the banquet. After dinner and a keynote address by seasoned technology industry executive Thor Culverhouse, CEO of Submittable, prizes, and checks were awarded. The College League’s Herbert B. Jones grand prize and the Open and High School Leagues’ first place awards were among the night’s highlights.

University of Idaho venture team StrapWell won first place in the Open League. StrapWell is a bag that universally adapts to tie downs for more secure shipments in the transportation industry.

In the High School League, venture team Mai Bowl, from Sammamish High School, won first place. Mai Bowl is a fresh fruit, low-calorie smoothie bowl providing a healthier dessert option.

Growing interest in entrepreneurship will benefit region’s future workforce 

The competition was the largest and most diverse in WSU’s history. The unique teams represented a wide variety of academic majors and programs of study as well as genders, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. 

“Interest in, and access to, entrepreneurial learning is growing at WSU and throughout our region. That is clearly evident by the diversity represented in this year’s venture teams and their business ideas,” said Marie Mayes, director of the WSU CFE. “This growth is building a future workforce from our region that will be prepared to bring innovative solutions to the most pressing business and social concerns of today and tomorrow.”

Some of the innovative ideas presented by the student venture teams included apps for improving campus safety, foster care resources, and business efficiency; snack carts, video game advertising, and tenant management tools. 

Winning teams announced

Academic and industry professionals judged teams based on presentation, development of a solution for a customer problem, value proposition, market opportunity, competitive advantages, go-to-market strategy, financials, and investment analysis. The teams also were evaluated on the merit of their ideas and business plans. 

In addition to sponsoring the grand prizes, the Herbert B. Jones Foundation sponsored merit awards worth $2,500 each for best-written plan, best presentation, best technology venture and best social impact business. BECU sponsored a FinTech merit prize, awarded to the team that presented the most innovative idea in the financial technology space. Foster Garvey sponsored the Open League. In the High School League, the Believe in Me Foundation sponsored all the prizes except for the grand prize, which was sponsored by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation.

The winning teams are:


WSU College League: 

  1. y255, $15,000
    y255 is an advertising agency that helps businesses market to Gen Z through customized video game experiences. 
  2. Small App, $10,000
    Small App is a platform that enables small brick and mortar retailers to manage and sell their inventory digitally.
  3. Totally Rad Pretzels, $7,000
    Totally Rad Pretzels is an after-hours food cart delivering pretzel snacks on WSU’s Greek Row.
  4. U-Shield, $4,000
    U-Shield is a campus safety app that bridges the gap between student concerns and university resources. 
  5. Central Solutions Group, $2,000
    Central Solutions Group is a software platform that enables non-emergency medical transportation companies to consolidate business processes.

Open League: 

  1. StrapWell, $5,000
    StrapWell is a bag that universally adapts to tie downs for more secure shipments in the transportation industry.

High School League:

  1. Mai Bowl, $5,000
    Mai Bowl is a fresh fruit, low-calorie smoothie bowl providing a healthier dessert option.
  2. Oval, $2,000
    Oval is a dashboard tool that streamlines tenant management for real estate investors and landlords. 
  3. Wellness Rediscovered, $1,000
    Wellness Rediscovered is a customizable, self-care subscription box that contains handmade, natural products.
  4. Furst Pick Dog Grooming, $500
    Furst Pick Dog Grooming provides pet owners with affordable, conscientious grooming services. 
  5. Luxe Tech, $250
    Luxe Tech develops secure, smart accessories like watches and wallets.

Herbert B. Jones Merit Prize Winners: 

  • Best Written Plan: Totally Rad Pretzels, $2500
  • Best Presentation: Totally Rad Pretzels, $2,500
  • Best Technology Venture: y255, $2,500
  • Best Social Impact Business (two-way tie): U-Shield, RYSE, $1,250 each

BECU Merit Prize Winner:

  • BECU Best FinTech: CARE, $5,000

Trade Show Winner:

  • Best Trade Show: Furst Pick Dog Grooming, $1,000

Watch the awards banquet video online.

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