Something unusual happened at Monday night’s Opportunity Quest awards banquet: A three-way tie for third place meant five student entrepreneur teams walked away with prize money instead of the usual three.
First place was awarded to Aura Optics, second place to MyBase Products and third place to Cottage Skis, Sigma Weapons Systems and Quilture.
Mike Glauser, executive director of the Jeffrey D. Clark Center for Entrepreneurship, spoke highly of the teams who competed in this year’s contest.
“This is the very best competition I’ve been involved with; I can say that honestly,” Glauser said.
Thirty teams originally pitched business ideas last semester to a board of mentors of Opportunity Quest, but only 10 teams were selected as finalists.
On Jan. 22, the finalists had one last chance to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.
First place winner Joe Canfield, an MBA student, owns and operates Aura Optics. His company produces ski goggles.
“I’m really excited,” Canfield said. “I think that this $500…$5000…how much is it again? I don’t even remember. This $5000 is going to help our business.”
Canfield puts about 50-60 hours a week into his business with his two business partners on top of being a masters student.
“It’s really time-consuming but it’s something we’re really passionate about,” he said. “We love skiing in the outdoors.”
Canfield said he was nervous to hear the announcement.
“I haven’t slept since we gave the pitch on Friday,” he said. “Really, it’s been rough.”
His advice to other student entrepreneurs was, “Just keep pushing. Money shouldn’t be the issue, time shouldn’t be the issue. If you’re passionate about it, you can make it work.”
Canfield said Utah State University has great resources available for students.
“I love Utah State and the opportunity they have given us to pitch businesses to people like they have,” he said. “The founder’s board members have been great. I had a chance to work with Paul Woodland. He has really given us a fresh perspective and really helped us turn it from a hobby to a business.”
Paul Woodland, a founder’s board mentor for the Jeffrey D. Clark Center for Entrepreneurship, has big goals for USU students and Cache Valley.
“We have this entrepreneurial club and this mentor organization to try to create businesses,” he said. “My goal is to make Logan, Utah the Silicon Valley of the Midwest. We want to make this the place where great ideas are spawned.”
He encouraged the teams that didn’t win any money in the contest to keep going.
“Don’t give up anything and just go make it happen,” Woodland said.
To students who might be interested in entering Opportunity Quest, Woodland explained the difference between a good business idea and a bad one.
“A bad idea is one where the person is not willing to learn, and they’re not willing to listen,” Woodland said. “A great idea is somebody who is always trying to find out what he needs to add and is willing to listen to it, change their ideas occasionally and learn.”
Woodland advised Danny Noall, a winner from last year’s contest, on his business Infuze Hydration, which is on the market today.
“This competition, it really gave me the tools and the vocabulary to go and present the idea to people in the future,” Noall said. “We were able to get an investment of $50,000 all truly based on what we prepared for this competition.”
Noall shared three parting suggestions for those with business ideas: First, be willing to learn; second, be willing to stand your ground; third, be willing to sacrifice.
Giant checks were given to the top five teams and all competitors congratulated each other and left with big smiles.
Competitor Kai Gull, a senior in mechanical engineering, wasn’t set back by not winning any prize money.
“I’m feeling good; I got a lot of connections,” he said. “Honestly, I’ve never gone more gung-ho on what I’m doing until I entered this competition. It just became more real to me. It’s not like game over.”