The Regnier Venture Creation Challenge doled out more than $65,000 in cash prizes to emerging startups this spring, culminating in Friday’s big win for an up-and-coming fintech app.
“We had a great competition,” Bryan Boots, managing director of venture creation and assistant teaching professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, told Startland News.
The annual UMKC contest came to a close last week after its second virtual showing in the COVID-era.
“We never thought that would be the case a year ago,” Boots added, noting the virtual setting has proven a successful expansion of the annual program’s reach — a pre-COVID goal for UMKC.
The event welcomed more than 150 participants from 13 different high schools, colleges, and universities in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska.
While out-of-state participants represented some 53 percent of the contests talent pool, it was Kansas City-based Splitsy that took home the RVCC’s first place, $15,000 prize.
“My co-founders and I were in our office together and it was a surreal feeling experiencing this with them,” Brad Starnes, Splitsy CEO, said of the company’s win and ways the cash prize will further fuel development on its patent-pending mobile application that allows users to automatically split large shared bills without the need for P2P transferring services.
“We were ready to pump the brakes on software development until we could find additional funding. The $15,000 prize should support the needs of our administration portal and additional features that are crucial to our MVP launch,” he explained.
“Moving forward, our team is going to be heads-down finalizing an application to an accelerator program, working with our early adopters for continued [research and development], building our waitlist, crowdfunding investments, and developing B2B partnerships for our strategic launch later this year.”
Snagging the competition’s top prize didn’t come easily, Starnes admitted.
“We were up against a tough competition and I was beginning to get nervous towards the end,” he said.
Starnes’ peers and additional winners included:
Second place: Woodie Goodies LLC, $10,000
Woodie Goodies is a KCMO-based book distribution business that buys gaylord boxes of used books in bulk from major thrift store chain warehouses. It then takes the newly purchased gaylord of books, which is anywhere from 600 to 1,100 books, to seven different businesses that buy the products to stock the inventory in their stores. Woodie Goodies makes sure all children’s books it comes across are set aside and donated to low-income schools in the area, while also keeping thousands of books monthly from ever reaching the landfills by putting them back into the hands of active readers again. Woodie Goodies prides itself on its social impact, making sure it supports local youth, business, and environment.
Third place: Relay Trade Solutions, $5,000
Bulk commodity trade and supply chain processes are outdated and inefficient, creating unnecessary payment delays and overhead costs. Relay connects shippers, carriers, origins, and destinations for seamless order to delivery, saves up to 50 percent on back office costs, and gets everyone paid faster.
Outstanding High School Entrepreneur: FreeScholars.com, $2,000
FreeScholars.com is a marketplace that connects businesses, nonprofits, and academics with high-achieving high school students for various services. In return, students get to explore career interests, acquire real-world experience, and enrich their college applications.
Outstanding Undergraduate Venture: Vamose, $2,000
Vamose offers a patent-pending gym bag that makes going to the gym easy for college and high school students using a backpack. The Vamose Gym Bag attaches to a student’s backpack so they can be hands free, and can avoid the hassle of carrying an extra bag with them throughout the day.
Outstanding Creative Enterprise: KeySpark, $2,000
KeySpark exists to create a collaborative learning community of 7th-12th grade saxophonists everywhere. KeySpark offers online music classes taught by experts in the field, an extensive resource library, and a forum to empower students to engage in skillful playing, thoughtful practice, and creative exploration. The online setting of KeySpark levels the playing field for students in areas where private instructors and musical opportunities are limited. Through interactive learning experiences and curated online resources, KeySpark is the student’s inspirational and accessible springboard for all things saxophone.
Outstanding Social Venture: Cultura en tus Manos, $2,000
Cultura En Tus Manos is an open online marketplace dedicated to helping artisans in Mexico market their products in the United States, allowing them to expand their customer base and easily export their products.
“We learned the importance of staying true to your roots,” Starnes said of Splitsy’s focus. “It is a roller coaster ride going through the rough patches of being an entrepreneur — but wins like RVCC remind our team to stay humble and to give back to those who have supported us along the way.”
Outside of Friday’s challenge, three other RVCC winners were announced this spring.
University of Iowa-developed CartilaGen Inc. was named first place winner of the Blue Health Innovation Award and its $15,000 grand prize backed by Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Rolla, Missouri-based RollOut received the awards’ $10,000, second place prize, representing Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Kansas City-made Kufukaa LLC was named winner of the James and Rae Block Community Business Award and its $2,500 prize.
Click here to learn more about Kufukka and how it’s endured the COVID-19 pandemic.
A grant recipient of Digital Sandbox KC — another UMKC-fueled effort — Splitsy is a prime example of the university system’s commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship, Starnes said.
“If it wasn’t for Digital Sandbox KC and now RVCC, I don’t know where we would be today,” he said, also acknowledging community partners in the UMKC E-Scholars program and small business development center, at Block Real Estate, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
“It’s the little things like these competitions that contribute to the big picture of an entrepreneur’s dreams.”