Student entrepreneurs take center stage at UGA's inaugural FABricate competition

- Merritt Melancon, UGA CAES

From a smart irrigation system for the home landscape to a new recipe for protein-packed meals on the go, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences students have some great ideas.

Those great ideas were front and center Wednesday evening as the college celebrated the finale of its inaugural FABricate entrepreneurship contest – a multi-month program during which teams developed new agricultural technology, food and hospitality startups and pitched them to business leaders.

Students were given $1,500 in seed money to develop their products and business ideas as far as they could in six months. The team in each category with the most innovative and best-developed idea in those six months won $1,000 per team member. An overall winner and people’s choice award were also presented.

“Universities have long been institutions that foster inquiry and investigation into nature and discovery,” said Dean Sam Pardue. “This program helps students transfer that curiosity and their ingenuity into an innovative business idea or product for the marketplace.”

The competition enabled UGA students to expand their leadership and business skills through the development of a new food product, new agricultural technology or a new food- or agriculture-related business. In addition to seed money, the college provided coaching and guidance from faculty mentors as well as monthly seminars from successful entrepreneurs.

Undergraduate students submitted business ideas in three categories – new food products, agricultural technology and agricultural or food-related businesses. Graduate students competed in a separate category. One team from each category received the prize money.

This year’s undergraduate category winners include:

Agricultural Technology and Overall Winner

Reservoir, by Jesse Lafian, studying horticulture

Reservoir is a solar-powered, automated smart irrigation system for urban and suburban landscapes aimed for use for upscale landscaping companies.

Ag- or Food-Related Category and People’s Choice Award Winner

Fresco, by Lizzy Isgar, studying food marketing and administration, and Antonio Rodriguez, studying computer science

Fresco is a phone app that allows restaurant owners and diners to share their wait times at local restaurants and make reservations. It is especially designed for college towns, where large groups of friends or family members struggle to find large tables.

New Food Product

Asian Sausage with Rice and Vegetables, by Britta Thinguldstad, Rachel Detweiler and Haley Gilleland, all studying animal science

Conceived of as full meal inside a sausage, students developed a recipe for a pork sausage with flavor notes drawn from Asian cuisine that also contains vegetables and rice.

This year’s graduate category winners include:

Graduate Research Technology

Light Variability Chamber, by Jacob Kalina, an undergraduate studying agriscience and environmental sciences; Allison Couch, master's degree student in plant protection and pest management; and Jonathan Fox, a master’s degree student in crop and soil sciences

This team of researchers developed a large light box that uses variable and programmable LEDs to deliver a set amount of light to turfgrass being evaluated for shade tolerance. The chamber allows researchers to determine the precise amount of light delivered to the trial plot.

 The final round of competition included “Shark Tank”-style presentation from each group followed by five minutes of questions from the judges.

This year’s judges include: Tony Bass, agricultural consultant, Fort Valley, Georgia; Ian Biggs, chief operating officer of the UGA Innovation Gateway Startup Program, Athens, Georgia; Caroline Hofland, president and chief executive officer of agricultural equipment firm CBH International, Suwanee, Georgia; Bob Pinckney, director of entrepreneurship at UGA’s Terry College of Business, Athens, Georgia; Octavio Ramirez, head of the CAES Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and Jose Reyes de Corcuera, associate professor in the CAES Department of Food Science and Technology.

Prize money was provided by generous donors, Keith Kelly of Kelly Products, a national agrichemical company based in Covington, and Hofland.

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(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)