What started out as another class assignment quickly became the opportunity of a lifetime for five University of Idaho students. On April 25-26, UI hosted its ninth annual Vandal Innovation and Enterprise Works (VIEW) Business Plan Competition. Thirty-one teams divided into three categories and competed for up to $40,000 in start-up funds.
The team of Samuel Kohl, Miles Hendrix, Peter Ritter, Natashia Saxton and Brandi Reid took first place in the Innovative Ventures category and was awarded $15,000 for their business formed around ThermoSense technology.
ThermoSense is a technology developed by UI in partnership with the United States Forest Service to monitor soil erosion around over-water bridges and piers, Kohl said.
The idea to form a business around this technology started in the team’s Business 415 class, which is UI’s capstone entrepreneurship course. The course requires students to take knowledge from the previous entrepreneurship class to form and develop an actual business proposal. Kohl said the culmination of the class is the VIEW competition in the spring, where the students get to present their business plan to executives from companies across the United States.
Hendrix, Kohl and Ritter, saw an in-class presentation on the patent pending ThermoSense when they decided they wanted to form their business around the technology.
Kohl said from there they contacted their professor and expressed interest in the product, then conducted an informal application process to form their team. As the team developed their business plan, it became apparent that they had a chance to make something big out of it.
“It moves less and less from an academic exercise to, we’re starting a business, what do we need to do to carry it forward?” Kohl said.
The VIEW competition was held in two parts, with one competition held Friday and the other on Saturday.
Kohl said the Friday competition required participants to give a quick, 30-second pitch to executives in an attempt to get business cards for points.
“It’s the closest simulation to selling an idea really quickly that you can get,” Hendrix said.
The Friday competition only lasted around two hours, and Hendrix said they were one business card away from placing.
The second part of the competition was an actual business pitch in front of a panel of judges. Kohl said they were given 12 minutes to present their product and business idea with another 10 minutes for questions and answers.
The TermoSense team was the first to present their idea at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday, Hendrix said.
After presenting, the team had to wait until around noon when the finalists were announced, where their team was the second group to go, Kohl said.
Both Kohl and Hendrix praised the other teams at the competition, saying all the people involved worked hard on their proposals.
“All the ideas were top notch,” Kohl said.
But the team didn’t stop there, they’re determined to make their business plan a reality.
Kohl said they were already awarded a $47,000 grant for lab testing and are waiting to hear back on a $50,000 grant from the Idaho Department of Transportation to move forward with field deployment.
They hope to form a company around monitoring erosion of bridges for private entities and governments, Kohl said, as well as explore other potential uses of the ThermoSense technology.
“We’re moving forward with field deployment, and it’s going to yield test results that will determine other applications,” Hendrix said.
Both Hendrix and Kohl were reluctant to share much more about their future endeavors, only letting on that there was still a lot of work to be done.
For aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners, Kohl said that the VIEW competition was an valuable opportunity.
“It is one of those experiences you will not regret, and that is something that you will only be able to get here at the University of Idaho,” Kohl said.
Jared Jonas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org