The 30th annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge, held on March 8, 2019 at the University of Montana, had teams of students present their ideas to a panel of over 50 judges, including small business owners and angel investors.

Montana State University presented five teams:
- The Ant Network: A business that utilizes a combination of media, exhibits and educational experiences to enable and encourage people to interact with and care for Earth’s biodiversity.
- May West Milkweed: A clothing manufacturer for winter jackets comprised of milkweed.
- KUBED: A company that strives to increase the nutritional value of smoothies by producing frozen cubes out of kale, chia seeds, and coconut milk.
- Sellout: A cloud-based event ticketing platform created to defend against fraud and scalping.
- CubiEZ: A company that produces compact and convenient ways to store charging devices.
Trevor Huffmaster, director of the Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU and mentor for the representing student teams, praised the students, saying “We are extremely impressed by and very proud of our MSU student teams.” He went on to compliment the teams’ adaptability and pitching capabilities in the face of so many judges. He went on to say that this competition is only just a start, that “the connections and suggestions provided at this event are invaluable for these student ventures.”

The Ant Network placed first in the competition, claiming $17,000 and earning the Intent to Launch Award and the Brandon Speth Award for Passion, Poise and Charisma. Miles Maxcer, founder and junior in MSU Honors College’s directed interdisciplinary studies program, claimed the award money will help in funding new content creation capabilities, including quality camera systems, computers for film editing software, and additional documentary filming. The other members of the team are Ben Schwartz, a sophomore who is studying history, and Thomas Stanton, a sophomore studying financial engineering.

May West Milkweed claimed second place, earning $15,500 and receiving the People’s Choice Award, Best Elevator Pitch and the Manufactured Product Award. The founder, Alayna Rasile, is an MSU School of Art graduate. She said the opportunity to pitch in front of the 50-plus Ruffatto judges and Missoula’s entrepreneurial community was a powerful platform for sharing her vision of a triple-bottom-line business. Rasile plans on using the secured funds to advance her business’ next round of pattern-making, sample sewing and material procurement.

KUBED secured third place in the competition and won the Athena Award, earning $6,500. KUBED is co-founded by Sophia Koopmeiners, a senior studying environmental horticulture and sustainable foods and bioenergy systems, and Serena Gossack, a senior in graphic design.

Sellout placed fourth, securing $2,500 in prize money. Their team was comprised of Computer Science students, Mike Pollard, a senior, and freshman Sam Heutmaker.

As a finalist, CubiEZ earned $1,000 in funding, which was presented by Cade Ellis, a freshman at Gallatin College MSU.

Aside from Huffmaster, the MSU student teams received a wide range of support from Tom Walker of the Bozeman Small Business Development Center, business faculty members Kregg Aytes and Peter Nalen, and MSU alumnus Andrew Nakas, a LaunchPad venture coach. The teams also received support from the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars, which offers coaching, ideation and venture creation support for students, alumni and faculty, as well as support from the MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship.

The MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship offers four undergraduate majors for study as well as five minors:
Business Administration
Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management
International Business
Additionally, the college offers a Master of Professional Accountancy degree, an entrepreneurship certificate and a business certificate. For additional information regarding the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, click here.

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