The University of Tulsa’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship and JOLT@TUBusiness came together to host the new Regent Bank Hurricane Pitch Competition on Nov. 10. This “Shark Tank-style” competition showcased TU student-created ideas and business ventures with the top three teams collectively winning $25,000 in cash prizes.
“I cannot express how incredible our inaugural Regent Bank Hurricane Pitch Competition was on Friday,” said Chris Wright, director of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. “The energy and support from fellow students, faculty, staff, and community partners throughout the day was amazing.”
The competition, designed by faculty in TU’s Collins College of Business, provided students ranging from freshmen to doctoral candidates with personal and professional development through workshops and educational programming, industry-specific pitch deck mentorship, and access to accomplished experts, in addition to the opportunity to pitch for the cash prizes. Eighteen teams applied to compete, and 10 were selected as semifinalists to pitch their plans to a panel of three judges.
The winning pitch was from Marama, led by Adriaan Lombard and James Higgs, both doctoral students in TU’s elite Cyber Fellows program. The five-member team hopes to combat global food insecurity by introducing the marama bean as mainstream crop. Marama beans, native to the Kalahari Desert in Africa, grow in the driest conditions and require very low farming input. They are full of protein and possess nitrogen-adding capabilities that also make it good for regenerative farming. Lombard and Higgs have created marama bean beverage shots in five delicious flavors, partnering with local farmers in Africa to source their products. The team won $15,000 for their pitch.
“Marama was started with the shared vision of uplifting communities in developing nations and creating a difference for people living globally by meeting their daily nutritional goals,” Lombard and Higgs said. “By utilizing the marama bean as a primary ingredient, we are the first company in the world to provide consumers with a variety of consumer-facing products.”
The second-place team was SkinCheck led by Julian Abhari, a senior double-majoring in computer science and cyber security, and Daniel Marques, who has completed his bachelor’s degree and is starting TU’s MBA program in January. SkinCheck is an app where users can upload photos of skin lesions and moles to quickly determine whether it could be cancerous and then be paired with a dermatologist for consultation. They received $7,500 for their pitch.
In third place was My Gamer with Seth Hastings (MS ’23), Eric Peterson (BS ’21), and Corey Bolger (BS ’17), all three of whom are doctoral students in TU’s Cyber Fellows program. My Gamer offers fans a chance to control whose perspective they watch during esports competitions. They will partner with regional and national esports events to provide an innovative service to increase viewership, strengthen engagement, and boost revenue. They received $2,500 for their pitch.
“It is invigorating to watch their creativity and how hard they have worked on these projects,” said Regent Bank Chairman and CEO Sean Kouplen. “You always tend to think adults have all the answers. What you don’t realize is adults tend to limit themselves. We’ve been through experiences that limit our ability to dream and think bigger. These students have not. What I’m seeing in them are ground-breaking ideas that can make an impact not only in Tulsa, but throughout the world.”
The Hurricane Pitch Competition will be held each fall, and Regent Bank has committed to a 10-year sponsorship of the event.