Student startup teams vie for $75,000 at WSU’s 18th annual Business Plan Competition

Team presenting business plan during virtual competition

College League Winner Unkle Drew’s Ginger Sauce Presenting in WSU’s 18th annual, first virtual, BPC competition

The competition grows every year. And as the competition grows, the quality of ideas they generate continues to impress us.

It wasn’t AI. It wasn’t biotechnology. It was ginger sauce! Unkle Drew’z Ginger Sauce walked away as the winner of the Herbert B. Jones $15,000 grand prize at Washington State University’s 18th annual Business Plan Competition Thursday, April 29.

The Unkle Drew’z Ginger Sauce team, founded by father/son team Brighton and Drew Maughan, and Cole Hensley, WSU student, developed a dressing, dip and marinade for all foods, with every bite sauced to perfection.

The WSU Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (CES) virtually hosted 28 student venture teams across three different leagues, representing nearly 150 students, who presented their business ideas and competed for cash and in-kind prizes totaling more than $75,000.

More than 100 entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders logged on to judge the event.

The top five teams of the College League, comprised of 19 WSU student teams, earned prize money. Though the College League is known for fierce competition and inspiring presentations, judges were equally as impressed by the confidence and professionalism seen in the High School League.

“Our judges and staff were inspired by the hard work of these young entrepreneurs and the creativity of the ideas presented at the virtual Business Plan Competition this year,” said Marie Mayes, CES director. “The competition grows every year. Even with the challenges of COVID restrictions, we had a record 43 high school teams apply to the screening round. We had strong numbers in the college and open leagues for the all virtual competition.”

The top five high school teams received prize money, with Red Thread Unraveled winning $5,000 for first place. Founded by Zoe Sponseller from Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., Red Thread Unraveled sells subscription boxes and gift boxes to Chinese adoptees with the goal of strengthening and maintaining an adoptee’s cultural connection to China. Sponseller said she aims to open the conversation of adoption and bonding between a child and adoptive parent.

Thirty-two teams from outside WSU applied to compete in the Open League. The top five teams presented, and Groove from Gonzaga University came out on top, winning $5,000. Groove, led by Abby Dodd, Emmy Wagner and Stella Beemer, proposed a free Chrome extension that uses a database of companies’ information related to sustainability to rate products in three categories: carbon emissions, fair trade and waste impact. If a product receives a low score, Groove will show options for higher-scoring products.

Awards were announced via a Zoom webinar that included a keynote address by Danielle Griebel, CEO and cofounder of Performulus. Griebel presented keys to success from her business career experiences and inspired students to be authentic, take risks and have fun.

Highlights of the competition included a cybersecurity business to help stop the next generation of mobile phishing attacks, a business offering affordable housing by using upcycled materials, a platform that helps students in and out of leases in a digital setting, and a self-service kiosk to clean personal electronics.

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
  •     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. Boeing Employees Credit Union (BECU) sponsored a FinTech merit prize, awarded to the team that presented the most innovative idea in the financial technology space. In the High school league, the Morning Star Foundation sponsored all of the prizes with the exception of the grand prize, which is sponsored by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation.

The winning teams are:
WSU College:
1.    Unkle Drew’z Ginger Sauce, $15,000
A dressing, dip and marinade for all foods.

2.    AnyLease, $10,000
A platform that helps people navigate leases in a digital setting

3.    3D Innovations and Academics, $7,000
A service-based business providing an educational platform and collaborative community for a wide range of age groups exploring 3D printing.

4.    Accustomed Accommodations, $4,000
A business offering affordable housing by using upcycled materials with self-sustaining, add-on features.

5.    Cleantech Kiosk, $2,000
A fully autonomous kiosk to clean personal electronics.

Open League:
1.    Groove, $5,000
A database of companies’ information related to sustainability that rates carbon emissions, fair trade and waste impact products.

High School League:
1.    Red Thread Unraveled, $5,000
        Subscription and gift boxes for Chinese adoptees with the goal of strengthening and maintaining an adoptee’s
        cultural connection to China.

2.    Mi Amor Confections, $2,000
        A business selling wholesale and retail macarons.

3.    Herny’s Lawn Care, $1,000
        A small, residential lawn care business in north Spokane.

4.    Highland Espresso, $500
     A coffee shop within the prime location of Five Mile Prairie.

5.    Pick Up Games, $250
        An app for arranging pick up sports games.

Merit Prize Winners:

  •     Best Written Plan: Unkle Drew’z Ginger Sauce, $2,500
  •     Best Presentation: BOSSSecurity, $2,500
  •     Best Technology Venture: Cleantech Kiosk, $2,500
  •     Best Social Impact Business, four-way tie: Accustomed Accommodations, Gifted Threads, Groove, Med-I-Equip, $625 each
  •     BECU Best FinTech: AnyLease, $5,000

Media Contacts:
Marie Mayes, director, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, WSU Carson College of Business, 509-335-5628, mmayes@wsu.edu
Sue McMurray, assistant director of communications, WSU Carson College of Business, 509-335-7578, sue.mcmurray@wsu.edu