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Three WVU teams win big in Statewide Business Plan Competition

Left to Right: Ajay Aluri, Gaylynn Johnson, Frank DeMarco, NIkki Bowmar, Jessica Elliott, Alan Davis, Harold Vass and Fonda Holehouse

The eighth annual West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition that began early last fall with a record field of 235 entries came to a close on April 4 at the final competition, held at the Waterfront Place Hotel in Morgantown.

Fifteen teams participated in the finals - five in each of three categories (Lifestyle & Innovation, Hospitality & Tourism, and STEM). In the end, it was WVU that swept the competition. The three winning teams , each from the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, received a $10,000 cash award, as well as a prize package including legal, marketing and accounting services and incubator space. The funding will allow winners to see their business ideas become reality in West Virginia.

In the Lifestyle & Innovation category, animal and nutritional sciences major Jessica Elliot was victorious. Her concept, RenaSnacks, will produce healthy snacks for those who have special dietary requirements due to renal failure, including low sodium and low phosphorus content.

Mountain State Hydroponics, a start-up venture located in West Virginia's Mid-Ohio Valley Region, won first place in the Hospitality & Tourism category. Created by graduate horticulture student Gaylynn Johnson, Mountain State Hydroponics specializes in the year-round production of high quality vegetables, herbs and fruits using a hydroponic growing method. This means the produce is grown without soil, relying instead on mineral nutrients.

The two-man team of Harold Vass (graduate student in agricultural and resource economics) and Alan Davis (environmental and natural resource economics) secured first place in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) category with their concept, Weld Safe Technologies. The two designed a gas sensor device that increases worker safety in welding, with the intent of patenting, prototyping and licensing. Their first product will constantly monitor and measure lower explosive limits of volatile gasses present in the environment, along with a number of different harmful gases that may be present in the air related to the welding process.

The West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition is open to all full-time college students attending a four-year, degree-granting West Virginia institution. This year's competition saw participation from 11 West Virginia colleges and universities. The record number of entries included 123 entries in the Lifestyle & Innovation category, 88 entries in Hospitality & Tourism, and 24 entries in STEM.

"I believe this is the most competitive event to date," said Steve Cutright, Director of the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which hosts the event. "It has been our goal to make the competition better for the participants every year, and the competitiveness demonstrated this year really showed that."