STEMtopia: App promoting STEM careers tops business competition
By: OLANMA HAZEL MANG
Feb 21, 2019
Team STEMtpopia presents its plan at the Business Plan Competition on Feb. 11 (Panther photos by Olanma Hazel Mang)
Claflin University awarded $5,000 to the grand prize winner of its annual Business Plan Competition on Feb. 11.
Of the five competing teams that presented their business proposals, STEMtopia won first place. Chelsey Williams and Winter Grant were the members of the winning team.
“It was kind of intense, but it was great to see all of our hard work turn into a serious accomplishment,” Williams said in an interview after the event.
Motivated to eliminate the disparity in the number of women and minority people working in STEM fields, the seniors proposed STEMtopia as an experiential learning app that would aim to prompt students in low-income areas to pursue careers in STEM.
Williams, who is an English education major, and Grant, a sociology major, said the preparation for the competition was daunting, especially when it came to the financials.
“Winter and I stayed up many a night trying to do more research, finding out what goes where, and it was a lot of studying. It was new for us,” Williams said.
Associate professor of management Robin Davis said she worked alongside the competitors for over six months to help them with preparing their business plans.
She said the main goal of the competition was to inspire the students to embark on their entrepreneurial dreams and to learn the ropes of establishing a business.
“It was truly a cross-section of interdisciplinary science working tonight and it teaches young people to understand that in the world of entrepreneurship, it takes collaboration,” she said.
Davis was the coordinator of the sixth annual competition, alongside Abdullah Khan, an associate professor of economics at the university.
Claflin President Henry Tisdale said in his welcome address that the university supported the competition this year with a $10,000 contribution.
“We hope that the few dollars that we have invested have been used to help support and jumpstart some of the plans beyond the walls of Claflin University,” Tisdale said.
The contribution was split between the winners, with second, third, fourth and fifth place winning $3,000, $1,200, $500 and $300 respectively.
One of the plans that the competition kickstarted was “Live Chair Inc.,” which was proposed by Claflin alumnus Michael DeVore in 2015. His team won that year.
This year, DeVore returned as a judge. He said the competition enabled him to connect with investors and developers.
“This is where it starts; this is the foundation,” he said. “If you can do the Claflin business competition, then you can do national business competitions.”
The “Live Chair” mobile app connects barbers to their customers and is available in the Apple and Play stores.
Another judge, Jim Johnson, region director at Small Business Development Center, commended the research that the competitors put into their business pitches.
“At this business planning stage, that's a lot of what you're doing,” he said. “You're just learning, doing research, seeing if it makes sense, because no funder or equity investor is going to buy in without objective data.”
Johnson is also an adjunct professor of business communications and management at Claflin.
His co-judge, Carolina Crowder, said she was impressed by the students’ talents but would like to see more research done on rent and distribution costs.
Crowder is the program director for USC/Columbia Technology Incubator in Columbia.
Coming in second place was team CUpair, comprised of computer science major Emmanuel Ndubuisi, finance and accounting major Frederick Uy, and computer engineering major Agha-Oka MacVincent.
The freshmen proposed an affordable mobile and storefront cell phone repair service for college students.
After their win, Uy said, “We feel very inspired. We're off to great things because we're just a bunch of freshmen trying our best.”
Other competitors, according to position, were:
Team Digo-Sustainable, comprised of Sagar Ghimire and Ananya Gupta.
Team KCU-Save, comprised of Rushay Larmond and Keneisha Wiggan.
Team Botaganics, comprised of Nnenna O. Odeghe and Lontsie Tedonzong.
STEMtopia: Winter Grant and Chelsey Williams hold up their grand prize of $5,000.
CUpair won second place. From left are Agha-Oko MacVincent, Frederick Uy and Emmanuel Ndubuisi.