This post originally appeared on the Auburn University New Venture Accelerator Newsroom.
A competition among sixteen student-led business startups came to conclusion on March 31 when the four teams who advanced to the final round of the 2023 Tiger Cage Business Pitch Competition presented their business plans to industry professional judges in the Broadway Event Space and Theater located in Horton-Hardgrave Hall.
Opening the event was Mark Forchette (’81 Marketing), President and CEO, Delphinus Medical Technologies. Mark was the original driving force behind the creation of the Tiger Cage pitch competition which has now completed its ninth year.
“Tiger Cage was a concept I floated in a Deans Advisory Council meeting in 2014 because I recognized through my Silicon Valley start-up experience that the skills you need as an entrepreneur are unique and require intense development”, said Forchette. “I felt it was essential to intensify our training for students on best-in-class entrepreneurial processes so they would be ready for the world they would compete in after graduation.”
Mark’s advice to young entrepreneurs is simple, “Define what you believe in, and live by it. Create your playbook and live by it tenaciously. And when you get the chance, take big audacious swings. If you fail, so what. There is no failure you can’t recover from.”
After literally hundreds of hours of prep work by all four business startups, when the judge’s deliberations ended, it was Dropllel who came out on top and was the recipient of $25,000 in startup capital. Led by Parvin Fathi-Hafshejani, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, Dropllel is a diagnostic tool that provides accurate, rapid, and cost-effective detection of viruses thereby successfully lowering the possibility of large-scale spread.
“The Tiger Cage Pitch Competition has been an incredible experience for me”, said Parvin. “As an engineer turned entrepreneur, with a strong technical background but relatively new to the business world, I gained critical business skills such as developing a business model and market strategy as well as improving my pitching skills. The competition helped me to think critically and connect with amazing entrepreneurs. Overall, it provided me with the skills, confidence, and network I needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.”
Presented by the Harbert College of Business, the final four teams were given 15 minutes to pitch their ideas and 15 minutes for Q&A. Teams were questioned by judges on financials, market shares, product availability, etc. To support their business plans, the 2023 Tiger Cage competition provided startup capital to all teams that placed in the final four with two additional “special awards” being provided as well.
Second place, receiving $12,000 in startup capital, went to Rodopto, led by Scott Rowe, Harbert College of Business. Rodopto is an agricultural company dedicated to sustainable crop production utilizing advancements in drone technology.
“The best part of Tiger Cage and, by extension, the New Venture Accelerator and Harbert College of Business”, said Rowe, “has been all the people I have met along the way. I have learned an incredible amount from the other founders and startups as they face many of the same challenges. While Tiger Cage is ultimately a competition, a tremendous amount of teamwork and shared learning still occurs. Being able to tap into the expertise and practical experience of Entrepreneurs-in-Residence like Jennifer Nay and Dan O’Keefe has been hugely helpful in taking my back of the napkin sketches and bringing them to market in a meaningful way. Tiger Cage is very much in keeping with Auburn’s traditions of growing as a community.”
Third place, and $8,000 in startup capital went to OMNIS, led by Zakariya Veasy and Evan Henley, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. OMNIS is a peer-to-peer social platform that allows individuals to borrow money through the community with short-term, micro-loans that meet their immediate needs.
“Tiger Cage has pushed me in ways that have made my business better as a whole”, said Veasy. “You don’t know what you don’t know and that is what presenting a business idea in Tiger Cage is all about.”
Fourth place and $5,000 in startup capital went to Archangel Defense, led by Shay Pilcher, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. Archangel Defense is a provider of customized equipment for any combat situation imaginable, designed for peak mission performance, and above all to make sure everyone who defends our country makes it home.
“As an engineer, it’s often very difficult to articulate all the math and the engineering concepts of our projects into terms anyone could walk up and talk to you about”, said Pilcher. “Tiger Cage has helped me hone this skill tremendously and has shown me that effective communication of an idea is, more often than not, of greater importance than the idea itself.”
Two additional special awards went to…
Dropllel, the recipient of the Thomas Walter Center for Technology Management special award in the amount of $4,000 that will be used for hardware/software prototyping.
And OMNIS, the recipient of the Burr & Forman legal services in-kind award in the amount of $5,000.
“Looking back on the nine years of Tiger Cage, I am very proud of the fact that the competition has held true to the beliefs that Mark grounded us in at the beginning”, said Bifano. “We remain steadfast in achieving his goal of having a multi-faceted entrepreneurship approach that enhances our students’ skills in starting a new business venture, bringing forward a new project for approval in an existing company, developing students’ written and verbal communications skills, and helping them build and grow their professional networks.”
Mark summed up the value proposition behind Tiger Cage perfectly, said Bifano, when he quoted one of his mentors, Brooks Byers, who said, “If it’s just a competition, it will fail the entrepreneurs. It must develop best-in-class processes that support them in their journey. It must teach them how to do things to be ready for what’s ahead so they can cut through the clutter. It must penetrate the classroom and include experiences and mentorship by skilled leaders.’”
As always, special recognition and appreciation go to the judges who support our student entrepreneurs:
- Tim Denison – President, GDI
- Ken Evola, Managing Director, PwC
- Ben Finley – Founder, The Finley Group
- Dave Gray – Founder, BISO Collective
- Bria Johnson – Chief People Officer, TaxxWiz
- Logan Loomis – Founder, Logan Loomis Consulting
- Mark Mettelman – Founder, Triad Advisors
- Dr. John Evans – Professor, Auburn University Samuel Ginn College of Engineering
- Ralph Runge – Founder, R2 Consulting
- Ron Schier – Franchise Owner, Yet Another Broken Egg
- Danny Strickland – Retired Chief Innovation Officer – Coke
- Jason Wilson – Founder, Back Forty Beer, CEO Coldwater Mountain Brewpub
- Walt Woltosz – Chairman and CEO, Simulations Plus
Most importantly, congratulations to all sixteen teams who participated in Tiger Cage 2023. The caliber of this year’s business ideas, the professionalism of the presentations, and the answers to the judge’s questions may have been the best ever.
2023 Tiger Cage participants: Gym Rat U – Dropllel – Flavivirus Resource Center – Atlas Esports Consulting – Archangel Defense – RNA – Dropout Flags – Snake Pudding – Flight Foods – Rodopto – AbGlo – Hyper Transport – Dream Mentorship Academy – Bump – Menu Match – OMNIS.
Please contact Lou Bifano to learn about the 2024 Tiger Cage business pitch competition as well as the broad array of services provided by the New Venture Accelerator that are available to help those looking to start a new business or grow an existing one.