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Moody Business Pitch Competition Inspires Student Innovators, Entrepreneurs

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University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL Lafayette) B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration and BRF’s Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP) — which provides services to innovative startups and works to stimulate entrepreneurship opportunities in North Louisiana — have partnered to present the Moody Business Pitch Competition, the first of its kind at the university. The event, originally planned to take place on campus at UL Lafayette, was instead held online on March 26 in accordance with the state’s current stay at home mandate resulting from the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Five finalists competed for $4,500 in cash prizes during a final online business pitch event held by the university and EAP, after participating in a speed consulting and business development workshop on campus last month. The top cash prize of $3,000 was awarded to Paul Pryor, a junior at UL Lafayette majoring in electrical engineering, for his business idea he calls “Leviathan” by Mystic Machines. Pryor says Leviathan, a low-cost, large format 3D printer, will fill an existing need for the automotive and aerospace industries.

Pryor hopes his product idea will be funded by investors and eventually brought to market. ”A lot of what I learned in this competition was the amount of devotion you have to have to build a business plan. I knew I wanted to bring this to market, but I had no plans on how to do that. This taught me many of the steps that go into making a company and becoming an entrepreneur,” said Pryor.

Garrett Hebert won second place and a cash prize of $1,000 for The Paw Pub, his idea for Louisiana’s first restaurant and animal adoption center combination. Garrett is an MBA candidate. The third place winner, Ambika Dahal, was awarded $500 for Frubotics, an artificial intelligence/robotics invention addressing labor shortages in the farming industry for fruit and vegetable harvesting. Ambika is a Ph.D. candidate in Systems/Mechanical Engineering.

The top three winners also won professional services from EAP and Opportunity Machine (OM). All top five finalists will receive scholarships to the Louisiana Startup Prize 2020 and a free two-year “Dream Up” membership with OM’s community workspace. OM is an initiative of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority in partnership with Lafayette Consolidated Government, Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louisiana Small Business Development Center and the people of the greater Lafayette/Acadiana region to grow business, entrepreneurship, jobs and economic diversity in the area.

“EAP is excited to add the Moody Business Pitch Competition to our group of business model competitions we started in North Louisiana and are conducting across the state to promote student innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Dave Smith, Executive Director of EAP. “We want students to know they can have successful careers in this arena, right here in Louisiana — and we’re showing them how by helping them build their skills and networks to support their work through events like this.”

The Moody Business Pitch Competition is one of seven events held at universities across the state that make up EAP’s innovative Grand Prix business model competitions.

Participating universities also include Louisiana State University Shreveport, Northwestern State University, Grambling State University, University of Louisiana Monroe, Centenary College and Bossier Parish Community College.

Part of a growing movement spurred by EAP to expand entrepreneurial education and career opportunities for college and university students in Louisiana, the Moody Business Pitch Competition encourages entrepreneurship and innovative thinking and was open to all UL Lafayette students. Participants attended a workshop in February where EAP analysts and other community professionals served as mentors, providing students with valuable input to further refine their business idea.

“I’ve been a professor for 20 years and I love participating in competitions like these because our students have the opportunity to think outside the test, outside the class,” said Dr. Brian Bolton, Professor and Dwight W. Andrus, Jr./BORSF Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Finance at UL Lafayette’s Moody College of Business Administration. “EAP wants to change innovation — and to change the community. We saw in this process the minds that will create that change.”

The following UL Lafayette faculty and community business professionals served as judges during the online final pitch competition:

  • John F. George Jr., M.D., President and CEO, BRF
  • Dave Smith, Executive Director, Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program
  • Brian Bolton, PhD, Professor and Dwight W. Andrus, Jr./BORSF Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Finance, UL Lafayette B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration
  • Heidi Melancon, Director, Louisiana Small Business Development Center at UL Lafayette
  • Destin Ortego, Director, Opportunity Machine

“EAP has proof of successful competitions, so this is a great partnership that really makes sense for our university and takes our students to next level thinking and experiential learning,” said Valerie McGehee, PhD, Visiting instructor for Marketing at UL Lafayette’s B. I. Moody III College of Business Administration.

“It’s so exciting to see our students’ faces light up when they’re getting feedback from mentors about new ways to think about their ideas and how to bring it to fruition — this is a complete paradigm shift for some students.”

According to BRF President and CEO John F. George Jr., M.D., students are the creative power of the country’s future.

“Entrepreneurship is the way to the future,” said George. “These students are learning the creative structure to come up with new ideas and solutions to address problems quickly. This is the path to innovative entrepreneurship, and the opportunities are out there for anyone.”


Photo credit: Rachel Rafati / University of Louisiana at Lafayette