UAB student team ranks first in statewide entrepreneurship competition

A team of UAB students recently won $10,000 and first place in the statewide entrepreneurship competition, Innovate Alabama: Entrepreneurship Hackathon.

Inside PPFrom left to right, William Rainer, Jaival Vikal, Shiva Gupta
Photo credit: Producer's Pantry
A student team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham received first place in the Innovate Alabama: Entrepreneurship Hackathon, hosted by Innovate Alabama. The annual competition grants students the opportunity to form teams and present entrepreneurial pitches to solve a proposed problem. The statewide competition allowed college student teams from across Alabama to compete for a first-place prize of $10,000.

UAB’s three-person team consisted of Jaival Vikal, a senior from Ahmedabad, India, double-majoring in computer science and entrepreneurship; Shiva Gupta, a junior from Nepal on a Personalized Path in the UAB Honors College double-majoring in physics and mathematics; and William Rainer, a sophomore from Fairhope, Alabama, majoring in entrepreneurship.

“I was captivated by the chance to innovate and collaborate on pitching a solution to the hackathon problem with a collaborative team of academically diverse and skilled individuals during my freshman year,” Vikal said. “This year, the competition expanded to a statewide level with higher stakes, further sparking my interest to participate.”

The hackathon’s focus was on addressing the unique obstacles faced by rural entrepreneurs in Alabama, to which the team dedicated countless hours to research and strategy. The team’s objective was to identify and develop novel solutions that would assist the designated community, as well as potentially benefit other rural areas throughout the state.

Rainer, a member of the University Honors Program in the UAB Honors College, said “Our company, Producer’s Pantry, takes the rising amount of peanuts and produce in Southeast Alabama and connects them to the rising demand for peanuts and produce in more populous areas like Birmingham."

“The UAB Department of Mathematics and Department of Physics have consistently shown unwavering support and enthusiasm in fostering my passion for science, technology and business,” Gupta said. “UAB has truly provided me with a remarkable platform to seize such opportunities and cultivate leadership skills and competencies, enabling me to make a meaningful impact in any field I choose to pursue post-college.”

Producer’s Pantry was ideated as a proposed link in the supply chain and logistics management company that addresses the transportation and logistical challenges faced by rural farmers in bringing their products to the market. The startup aims to bridge this gap and assist farmers in selling their products more effectively, enabling them to obtain fair prices. The team set the company’s focus on the distribution and sale of peanuts, of which Alabama serves as one of the leading producers of in the country.

“To achieve this, we are employing cutting-edge Supply Chain Management technologies, establishing an online network for rural farmers, implementing a distribution system through farmers’ markets and utilizing a fleet of trucks to facilitate this process,” Vikal said.

The team says mentorship and lessons out of the UAB Collat School of Business thoroughly prepared them to be successful in this opportunity.

“Dr. Murphy played a pivotal role in providing accessible lectures that were comprehensible even to non-business students like me,” Gupta said. “His guidance proved invaluable throughout the competition.” 

"The Barefield Entrepreneurship Program's curriculum is world-class and the courses in our entrepreneurship major are rigorous and relevant," said Patrick Murphy, Ph.D., director of UAB’s Entrepreneurship program and Goodrich Endowed Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. "I'm proud of these three hardworking students who have not only learned the concepts but have also learned how to apply them in outreach projects with Birmingham entrepreneurs. They competed against some extremely strong teams to win first place, and they did it in front of a national audience at the 2024 USASBE conference."

The team is actively pursuing grant funding to cover the initial startup fees for their business and have applied for one that could initiate their business venture. The team seeks to establish a strong foundation utilizing the grant for everything affiliated, such as land, infrastructure, vehicles and software.

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“Alabama holds immense potential for the growth of technology businesses, and through the hackathon, UAB has provided us with the chance to embark on this opportunity,” Gupta said. “I am filled with excitement and anticipation as I look forward to what the future holds for both me and our venture, Producer’s Pantry.”

Innovate Alabama is a nonprofit that focuses on the fruition of entrepreneurs in the state of Alabama. Focusing on talent development, access to resources, and the lifestyle and recreation of innovators both personally and professionally, Innovate Alabama seeks to implement programs and policies that support Alabama’s innovation ecosystem.