Teams from the University of Arkansas swept the Arkansas Governor’s Cup awards, which recognize student-led entrepreneurial efforts in the state. The top three finishers in two categories were awarded a total of $80,000 in cash in a virtual ceremony Thursday afternoon.
The statewide competition, which begins in the fall school semester and lasts more than six months, included 88 students who worked together to submit 31 individual business plans.
Nivera Solutions was awarded $25,000 for winning the high-growth technology division. Simple + Sweet Creamery won $15,000 with first place in the small-business division.
Nivera has developed a new approach to melting all forms of ice and avoid the use of chemicals that harm the environment. The proposal uses nanotechnology — which manipulates atoms and molecules — to melt ice on multiple surfaces.
Simple + Sweet has developed ice cream sourced from local farmers. The business proposal includes donations to fight child hunger and food insecurity for every sale. The effort led to 12,500 sales over six months.
The high-growth technology competition included participants with breakthrough ideas and technologies focused on key sectors of the Arkansas economy, such as agriculture, health care, information technology and manufacturing, among others. The small-business division centered on customer-facing operations such as the retail and hospitality sectors.
Over the program’s 21 years, the competition has grown to attract not only business students but those in other disciplines such as science, engineering and math, according to Rush Deacon, chief executive officer of Arkansas Capital Corp., which sponsors the competition.
“We’re proud that the competition has grown and matured over the years, and it’s much more integrated in the schools,” Deacon said Thursday. “This gives those outside of the business school setting an opportunity to think more entrepreneurial.”
Participants were evaluated on creativity, potential to create market disruption, quality of presentation and responsiveness to questions from the judges’ panel, which included small-business founders and experts in mentoring start-up businesses.
The business-plan competition aims to boost the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Arkansas, encouraging student entrepreneurs by teaching them how to build a business plan and develop strategies to raise funds and take a product to market.
This year’s participants included students from the Arkansas School for Math, Science, and the Arts, Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech, Central Baptist College, Harding University, Lyon College, University of Arkansas and one team, ClipBeat, was a combination of students from the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in recorded remarks, noted that the competition helps students develop skills that last throughout their careers. “The rigors of this competition will serve you well for years to come,” Hutchinson said, adding that competitors demonstrate the “creativity and innovation that is in the DNA of the state of Arkansas.”
While some competitors have used the plans they submitted to start businesses, Deacon noted that the primary purpose of the program is to complement academic studies.
“We count as our measure of success what impact this has had on the entrepreneurial education system in Arkansas,” he added. “This competition helps prepare them for the real world in ways that normal academic studies can only go so far in doing.”
In Arkansas, Deacon said there were no degree programs in entrepreneurship and only one course promoting start-ups when the Governor’s Cup began. Now, there are more than 10 degree programs related to entrepreneurship, he said.
Arkansas businessman Dhu Thompson, who founded Revolution Plastics in Little Rock, contributes the prize money for the competition.