Student entrepreneurs compete in virtual “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition

Participants from the Anvil Student Startup Bootcamp make their final pitches in the annual UAB Blazer Innovation Challenge.
Written by: Briana Bryant
Media contact: Alicia Rohan

University of Alabama at BirminghamWatts2 student entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to compete for $6,500 in prizes at the fourth annual Blazer Innovation Challenge.

The Collat School of Business and Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship hosted the virtual event sponsored by IBERIABANK. The challenge promotes student entrepreneurship and innovation toward solving product, service or process problems.

The $3,500 first-place prize was awarded to Jessica Watts, an educational studies doctoral candidate, who pitched her company, House Plant Collective. Watts converted a school bus into Birmingham’s first mobile plant store offering pop-up events and workshops on houseplant care. Responding to recent changes to the retail landscape brought on by social distancing, Watts quickly launched an online sales platform and expedited the release of her mobile plant store for safe houseplant deliveries.

Southeast Seminars received the $2,000 second-place award. Led by Laqueatrece (Lashon) Warren, Ph.D., who is pursuing a nurse educator certificate, Southeast Seminars provides continuing education credits and test preparation for the certified registered nurse anesthetist exam.

The $1,000 third-place prize was awarded to MBA student William MacGavin and Julia Brown, a recent graduate from the School of Engineering. MacGavin and Brown pitched their company, Birmingham Glasscrete, which manufactures prefabricated architectural concrete panels utilizing plastic waste.

The six teams presented ideas after participating in the Anvil Student Startup Bootcamp, a free, noncredit-bearing program that provides the support, mentorship and training to help UAB students launch their own companies.

“It’s an exciting time to work with UAB’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Lydia Dick, Anvil program director and Venture for America fellow. “Through collaboration with the Collat School of Business, we can continue to help students launch startup ventures that create local economic impact.”

In just two years, Anvil program graduates have formed 15 companies and nonprofit ventures, generated $2.1 million in sales, created 14 full-time jobs, and raised $1.1 million in investment capital and more than $200,000 in grant funding and pitch competitions.

“This year’s Blazer Innovation Challenge was truly inspirational,” said Eric P. Jack, dean of the Collat School of Business. “We overcame the hurdles of COVID-19’s limited operations by delivering a virtual and interactive experience that engaged emerging entrepreneurs and our community stakeholders.”

For four years, the Blazer Innovation Challenge has rewarded UAB students with innovative business ideas with the opportunity to win cash to help get their concepts off the ground. Dozens of student startups have received funding for projects ranging from custom 3D orthotics to nutrition bars, to homes for the homeless. IBERIABANK has provided more than $30,000 in funding, and students received mentorship and coaching from Collat’s expert entrepreneurial faculty.

While entrepreneurship classes have been available at UAB for more than a decade, the business school now offers an undergraduate major in entrepreneurship.

“When we designed our building, we had these opportunities in mind,” Jack said. “There is a home for entrepreneurship in Birmingham, and that is the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the UAB Collat School of Business.”

Watch the Blazer Innovation Challenge pitches in the event recap here.