Student-run AI ventures dominate Business Plan Competition

Cordoba venture team holds a big check.
Cordoba venture team, who developed an AI plug-in for 3D modeling in architecture, wins the Herbert B. Jones Foundation $15,000 grand prize at WSU’s 21st annual Business Plan Competition.

AI innovations and apps dominated the business ideas presented at Washington State University’s 21st annual Business Plan Competition Thursday, April 25.

Cordoba was the big winner, taking home the Herbert B. Jones $15,000 grand prize.

Cordoba is an AI plug-in that facilitates communication between architects and clients. Using text-to-3D AI modeling, clients can specify desired designs for their homes.

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). 

Two hundred thirty-six students from nine WSU colleges, six universities, and six high schools across Washington and Idaho formed 118 venture teams that competed in three different leagues. The unique venture teams represented a wide variety of academic majors and programs of study including arts and sciences, natural resource sciences, veterinary medicine, neuroscience, global challenges, communications, business, and more.  

Venture teams participated in numerous rounds of competition over the last six weeks. WSU students competed in an initial screening round where judges reviewed their business plans. Twenty teams advanced to present in a virtual semi-final round. Foster Garvey Open League and High School League teams competed in preliminary screening rounds. The top four teams in the Foster Garvey Open and High School leagues, and the top five teams in the College League advanced to the in-person finals hosted on the WSU Pullman campus, Thursday, April 25.

Winners earn big checks, trophies at annual awards banquet

The winning teams from all three leagues were invited to an awards banquet immediately following the final presentations. During the banquet, all teams participated in a trade show where banquet attendees learned more about their business ideas. Nikki Torres (’16), Emmy award winning TV journalist and WSU alum, served as master of ceremonies for the banquet. After dinner, WSU alum Brea Starmer (’05), founder and CEO of Lions & Tigers, a professional workforce and staffing solutions company, delivered a keynote address.

The Herbert B. Jones grand prize in the College League and first place awards in the Open and High School Leagues were among the night’s highlights.

University of Washington team Happy Pop won first place in the Foster Garvey Open League. Happy Pop, a healthy alternative to popcorn, is a snack made from popped sorghum, an ancient Indian grain.

In the High School League, venture team Protein Palace from Mercer Island High School won first place. A fast casual restaurant specializing in high protein bowls and sandwiches, Protein Palaces tracks macronutrients to help patrons meet nutritional goals.

Venture teams on trend with AI and tech changes in business

Student venture teams developed innovative ways to use AI to improve business and enhance personal lives. Their ideas included AI plugins that enable 3D modeling in architecture, custom clothing designs, and nutritional planning. Teams also presented a variety of apps designed to help users find available parking in busy locations, create customized digital bookshelves, collaborate on grocery shopping, and preview hiking trails.

“Our student entrepreneurs are keenly aware of the current trends in business,” said Marie Mayes, CFE faculty director. “The increase we’ve seen in venture ideas around the AI, app, and technology spaces shows these students are aware of the changing market. The entrepreneurial learning they receive at WSU and through this competition is preparing a workforce ready to capitalize on and succeed in that market.”

Winning teams announced

More than 90 academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and other industry professionals judged the competition. Teams were evaluated 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 were also 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 Foster Garvey 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. Cordoba, $15,000
    Cordoba is an AI plug-in that facilitates communication between architects and clients.
  2. PicsGenie, $10,000
    PicsGenie uses AI to allow anyone to customize shirts in under 15 seconds.
  3. Snap Chains, $7,000
    Snap Chains is an alternative snow chain designed for instant installation and removal.
  4. Serenity Spaces, $4,000
    Serenity Spaces is a furnishing company that allows individuals to rent customized furnishing packages.  
  5. Main Street Trader Bar and Grill, $2,000
    Main Street Trader Bar and Grill is a restaurant in Vancouver, Washington, offering diverse food, drink, and live entertainment.

Foster Garvey Open League:

  1. Happy Pop, $5,000
    Happy Pop is a snack made from popped sorghum, an ancient Indian grain.

High School League:

  1. Protein Palace, $5,000
    Protein Palace is a fast casual restaurant specializing in high protein bowls and sandwiches.
  2. Eco Trail, $2,000
    Eco Trail is an app that allows hikers to view a trail before they hike it.
  3. 7b Surf Co., $1,000
    7b Surf Co. offers professional wake surfing lessons to individuals living and vacationing in Sandpoint, Idaho.
  4. Victoria Paints, $750
    Victoria Paints offers affordable custom wall art.

Herbert B. Jones Merit Prize Winners:

  • Best Written Plan: Snap Chains, $2,500
  • Best Presentation: Snap Chains, $2,500
  • Best Technology Venture: Cordoba, $2,500
  • Best Social Impact Business: Serenity Spaces, $2,500

BECU Merit Prize Winner:

  • BECU Best FinTech: Serenity Spaces, $5,000

Additional Merit Prize Winner:

  • Best in Trade Show: Tripzy, $500

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