Clemson entrepreneurs win $20K in MBAe pitch contest

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Boozehounds, nighttime athletes and fashionable pets everywhere were the real winners at Clemson University’s EnterPrize Awards, the school’s MBA in entrepreneurship pitch contest closing out the students’ yearlong program. While students pitched everything from ice rink booking applications to pocket neighborhood developments, first-place winner Standard Ice took home $20,000 to build its soon-to-be-patented craft ice machine concept for bars and restaurants.

The premise is simple, according to the brains behind the company, MBAe student Josh Luetkemeyer and mechanical engineering student Tyler Curran. If you’re going to pay top dollar for a premium drink, why let fast-melting, bacteria-riddled, cloudy ice ruin it?

“The ice machine is notorious in the industry for failing health inspections,” said Luetkemeyer, who hit upon the idea while working in Moscow for Coca-Cola. Crystal-clear premium ice – as frozen by the machine they’ve spent a year designing – not only melts slower, but it looks better in the glass. That, and bars can charge $1 to $2 more for it per drink, he said.

But a premium ice machine – which could run between $1,500 and $1,800 each – can be a hard sell if business owners don’t understand the value and growing demand, they said. “It’s a big hurdle for us, and that’s a big part of our sales pitch is how is this going to pay for itself in the long run,” said Luetkemeyer. Despite the cost, the machine could pay for itself in as little as six weeks, he said.

The $20,000 from the contest will go directly toward producing Standard Ice’s first prototype by August, which will allow them to begin trials in five key markets around the country, including New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland.

Matt Brown
Matt Brown

Second-place winner Matt Brown won $6,000 for his company Get Lit, which produces customizable LED safety wear for athletes, pedestrians and commuters who find themselves traversing in the dark. The LED panel can be attached to the back of bikes, backpacks and eventually shirts, and uses moving arrows and other patterns to help prevent accidents and fatalities by alerting motorists.

Canine bandana manufacturer Ambitious Pet Products took third, winning $4,000 to put towards making fashionable dog-wear with military-spec fabric. Each bandana sale includes a donation to a nonprofit that trains rescued dogs for disabled veterans and first responders in the Carolinas, said co-founders Zach Capps and Derek Riker.

Derek Riker and Zach Capps
Derek Riker and Zach Capps

The five finalists included first, second and third winners in addition to ice rink booking application Open Ice by Ryan Anderson and gospel music talent development firm iCAn Entertainment by Brittany Williams.

Other student pitches included productivity and personal goal mobile application Climb by Jackson Holt; pocket neighborhood development company Boyleston Creek Homes by James Holmes; event management group-purchasing company EventDepartment by Robert Howell; and toy company Extra-Toydinary by Sophia Nichols.

About 45 percent of companies launch in the real world after going through Clemson’s MBA in entrepreneurship program, and not all of those survive, said Clemson University College of Business and Behavioral Science Associate Dean and MBA Program Director Greg Pickett.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to secure an MBA, which has value in and of itself,” said Pickett, who said the sticker price of $28,500 is built to include a mentor-heavy network of connections. “We’re creating startups, but we’re also creating an entrepreneurial orientation that will make them a viable candidate for growing businesses.”

For Luetkemeyer and Curran, Standard Ice would not have been possible without the diverse set of university resources. While they plan to exit the business in three to four years, the entrepreneurial lessons will extend beyond the company, said Luetkemeyer.

“I’ve never wanted an MBA. It’s a piece of paper to me,” he said. “I wanted to learn how to start a business. That’s what I got out of this program.”

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