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Kentucky’s students shine in business plan competition

Judges select eight student ventures to share a combined $100,000 in awards

FRANKFORT, Ky. (April 24, 2012) – Graduate and undergraduate students from Kentucky’s state universities presented their business concepts and plans this past weekend during a two-day competition designed to identify and support the next generation of Kentucky innovators and entrepreneurs.

The fifth annual “Idea State U,” hosted by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development in Lexington, featured plans for 24 new Kentucky companies and offered up to $100,000 in prize money.

More than 70 students participated, comprising 10 teams of graduate students and 14 teams of undergraduates from seven Kentucky public universities. With the help of university advisors, students spent months developing either business concepts or formal business plans, which were presented to panels of business experts serving as volunteer judges for the competition.

“This type of innovative and entrepreneurial spirit will play a key role in future economic development,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “We wish these students the best as they pursue their dreams of putting these promising business plans into action.”

Student entries described proposed ventures for a wide variety of products and services, including a noninvasive test for lung cancer, a machine that lets customers create custom T-shirt designs in minutes, and an eco-friendly apartment development, just to name a few.

“The Idea State U competition provides the students with three things every entrepreneur needs: inspiration, connections, and encouragement,” said James Fugitte, founder and CEO of Wind Energy Corporation, who has served as a judge at all five competitions. “The event teaches them to think outside the box, it connects them to Kentucky’s investment and business communities, and it encourages them to develop and test their ideas so that they can be evaluated and improved.”

Cash prizes are weighted to provide larger awards to those teams whose entries are more fully developed and therefore more likely to succeed, and most of the money can only be claimed as reimbursements for specified business expenses after the team forms a legal company in Kentucky. The emphasis on readiness to compete in the marketplace maximizes the opportunity to earn a return on the state’s investment by creating real companies that provide real jobs for Kentuckians. Several start-up companies have formed after competing in one of the four previous Idea State U events.

“After competing in last year’s Idea State U with a concept for my new venture and now this year with a full business plan, the competition helped me gain the experience and confidence necessary to open my own store,” said Solankè Bomani, owner of The Butter Factory in Lexington. “The judges’ advice and feedback helped me fine-tune my plan, which I believe over the long run will help me be successful.”

The store, located at 1037 N. Limestone in Lexington, features a selection of hand-made natural cleansing and moisturizing products for hair and skin.

The top award of $35,555 was presented to Kentucky Chia, a graduate student team from the University of Louisville, for a business plan to create a wholesale distributor of domestically grown chia seeds, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber. Chia seeds can serve as a new cash crop for farmers and provide a supplement for horses to help prevent colic and laminitis.

Other top-rated proposed ventures include:

• Social Circles, created by a graduate student team from Northern Kentucky University. Awarded $24,711 for a business plan to develop a calendar-based social networking platform that provides recommendations for social activities based on personal interests, local events and social history;

• Inxpression, created by undergraduate students from Northern Kentucky University. Awarded $11,533 to develop a business which uses a patent-pending in-store machine that lets customers design their own T-shirts with customized text and graphics in a matter of minutes;

• Digicrits.com, created by an undergraduate student from Murray State University. Awarded $7,355 to develop an online service for commercial, collegiate and professional artists to link their talents to consumers;

• VOC Diagnostics, created by graduate students from the University of Louisville. Awarded $5,561 for a business concept to develop a noninvasive, cost-effective test for lung cancer that captures and analyzes a patient’s breath;

• Higher Education Associates, created by a graduate student from Western Kentucky University. Awarded $2,111 to further develop a business concept that provides institutions of higher learning with education audits by enrolled students specially trained and certified to perform objective, comprehensive and anonymous audits;

• EcoVision Development, created by an undergraduate student team from the University of Louisville. Awarded $1,583 to further develop a business concept that specializes in high-quality, energy-efficient and affordable apartments; and

• Line Scout, created by a team of undergraduate students from Northern Kentucky University. Awarded $1,588 to further develop a business concept that uses a cloud-based software application to assist management efforts in the restaurant industry.

In addition, the Governor’s Innovation Award was presented to Northern Kentucky University’s Tamara Dickerson and Stephanie Ward for the Inxpression undergraduate business plan. This trophy is presented each year to the team with the business venture judged to best demonstrate innovative thinking and possess a “wow” factor.

In response to this annual competition, several schools have enhanced their existing programs or established new entrepreneurship courses to develop business plans that will compete at future Idea State U events.

For more information, visit www.IdeaStateU.com.

Winners of Idea State U pose with oversized versions of the checks they were awarded,