Innovation and Entrepreneurship Across Markets: The Winners of CC’s Fifth Annual Big Idea Competition

Colorado College’s fifth annual Big Idea Competition held on Wednesday evening was full of creative and unconventional pitches. The Big Idea Competition welcomes student groups to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges in the hopes of winning seed money to launch innovative and entrepreneurial ventures. This year’s competition featured five teams of students competing for a grand total of $50,000.

President Jill Tiefenthaler presents the candidates. Photo by Mikaela Burns

The competition judges were asked to determine the winner with three criteria: feasibility of the idea, the team’s genuine confidence in their idea, and if the team could reasonably present their pitch.

The judges of the Big Idea Competition included five alumni and distinguished entrepreneurs, including Dr. Susan Smith Kuczmarski ’73, founder of Kuczmarski Innovation, and Richard Koo ’82, president of Davis Instruments, a company that focuses on manufacturing weather and vehicle monitoring devices.

Ultimately, it was Flyphone who took home the first prize, worth $30,000.

Flyphone is a startup dedicated to manufacturing drones equipped with smartphones that record footage of the weekend warrior from the perfect distance. The brain trust behind the startup consists of a five-person team consisting of all seniors: engineers John Sylvester and Matt Levitan, marketers Dan Keogh, Kiki Kauffman and Ben Tweedy and financier Teddy Corwin.

In second place, with a prize of $10,000, was Chica Chocolate, led by Cassidy Lam ’19 and CU Boulder student Elise Morgan. Chica Chocolate offers a subscription to chocolates infused with special Chinese herbs intended to ameliorate pain prompted by women’s menstrual cycles (conveniently delivered every month). Chica Chocolate, along with the student group TREEhouse, were the first ever female-led groups to reach the final round of the Big Idea Competition. TREEhouse was led by Kat Jacaruso, Erin Curk, and Cora Lubchenco.

Photo by Mikaela Burns

In third place, which was also accompanied by a $10,000 prize, was Ogugu, an app created by juniors Harvey Kadyanji and John Roy Ballossini Dommett, and senior Niyanta Khatri that is billed as a “subscription-based accounting software” available on smartphones. With its Swahili language interface, it is geared towards informal “micro-businesses” in Sub-Saharan Africa, in which both Kadyanji and Dommett were raised.

Other pitches included a “smart sleep headband” that promised to improve the users deep sleep.

According to the judges, Flyphone exceeded the judges expectations with a pitch focused on how their device will be a perfect partner for the “adventure filmer” looking to bring home some “braggadocious” frames to their friends. They also trumpeted the distance at which the Flyphone films, which is more personal than the competition’s without getting in the way of the film subject or other obstacles that may present themselves (say, branches for a tree-skier).

The hardware for Flyphone consists of two components: a GPS-enabled bracelet, which allows the drone to follow the user’s movement, and the drone, which does the flying and the filming. The Flyphone’s easily detached propellers are also safely covered, ensuring that “drone-filming” doesn’t become “attack of the drones”.

“It feels incredible,” Kauffman said of the victory. “We’re super pumped to see what comes next!”

“This money will be used to keep FlyPhone alive through the summer,” said Tweedy, “by which point we plan to have a minimum viable product which we will use for beta testing and in order to secure seed funding.”

Photo by Mikaela Burns

Flyphone’s ultimate seed funding goal is $1.5 million. Compared to the $127-billion-dollar drone market, 30 percent of which is devoted to aerial photography, $1.5 million dollars is a relatively small amount. Regardless, Flyphone’s funding goal will undoubtedly provide a challenge for the team. Their answer to that challenge is to have a minimum viable product (MVP) ready to launch by the end of this summer. The Flyphone team hopes an MVP will catch investors’ interest and inspire them to open up their checkbooks.

The fifth annual Big Idea Competition, hosted this year at the Richard F. Celeste Theatre, marked the last time Patrick Bultema will oversee the event. He will be relieved by Dez Menendez ’02, director of Innovation at CC.



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