Pictured above from left – 2nd place winner Bailey Dozier, 1st place winner Jake Officer, 3rd place winner Bailee Kauffman and Eagle Works manager Andrea Kruszka. 

Tech students pitch business ideas, compete for over $20,000 in scholarships at Eagle Works competition

Cookeville – Students at Tennessee Tech University pitched their business ideas and competed for more than $20,000 in scholarship prizes at the recent 10th annual Eagle Works Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition.

The Shark Tank-style event featured eight Tech students who competed before a panel of five judges. Each student developed a business concept, created a trade show display, delivered a presentation and answered questions from the judges, who then determined the winners. 

The contestants were part of an original pool of 50 Tech students who began the year developing ideas and honing their business pitches with Eagle Works staff. 

“This was one of the best years we’ve ever had for talent and ideas,” said Andrea Kruszka, Eagle Works manager. “I was very impressed with every single student. Each one of them took advantage of all the resources available and gave 100%. Any single one of them could have won.” 

Jake Officer, a freshman manufacturing engineering technology major from Sparta, took home top honors and a $10,000 scholarship prize for Crate Buddy, a device that securely fastens a milk crate to the back of a bicycle and allows it to be used as storage.

Officer has already developed a prototype for the product and applied for a patent. 

“The bicycle is a great alternative to gas-powered vehicles,” explained Officer in his presentation. “I ride a bicycle every day to and from class. But there’s one critical problem with bicycles: storage capacity.” 

Officer added that the Crate Buddy offers better affordability, greater sustainability and more storage capacity than bicycle storage bags that are already on the market. In remarks at the competition, Officer reported that he would seek to market the Crate Buddy in both the U.S. and overseas, including countries where cycling is a more dominant form of transportation. He added that, with small changes to the manufacturing process, he could secure an 88 to 92% profit margin on the product. 

Officer says the idea for the Crate Buddy came from his own personal struggles with finding adequate storage on his bike and was formed when he came across a pile of milk crates in his grandmother’s barn. 

Kruszka highlighted the significance of Officer’s win as a Tech freshman.

“The fact that he is a freshman just blows my mind,” she said. “He is already working so hard. He has a prototype, he has a great marketable idea that is patentable, and he is one of those students that you think ‘I’m going to watch you take over the world in four years.’ He is going to do great things.” 

Second place honors and a $5,000 scholarship went to Bailey Dozier, a senior marketing major from Nashville. Dozier, a musician who performs in local venues outside of the classroom, presented a concept called Beam which she described as, “the first subscription-based app that connects artists to their live local music venues.” 

For a low monthly fee, up-and-coming performers could create an account, upload pictures and samples of their music and send requests to venues. Likewise, venues could post information about their live music needs and browse for local talent to diversify their lineups. 

Dozier said the app can be musicians’ “first manager in the industry.” She noted that there are more than 180 music venues between Cookeville and Nashville that could take advantage of this platform. Dozier has already received verbal commitments from 25 artists willing to be represented on the app. 

“She actually looked at a problem that affected her and decided ‘I’m going to find a way to solve this,’” said Kruszka of Dozier’s concept. “It’s got a lot of merit and I’m excited to see her pursue it.”

Third place and a $2,500 scholarship went to Bailee Kauffman, a senior marketing major from Murfreesboro with a proposal to combat drink spiking called SafeSTICK. Kauffman explained in her presentation that someone is sexually assaulted by the use of a date rape drug every 68 seconds.

SafeSTICK is a sticker that bars and restaurants could place over customers’ beverages to prevent tampering. 

“SafeSTICK is designed to mimic an ordinary sticker but, unlike a typical sticker, it is created to prevent danger to one’s life,” Kauffman said in her remarks. 

The concept is deeply personal for Kauffman, who shared in her presentation that she experienced drink spiking firsthand. Kauffman added that the Eagle Works competition and the hands-on entrepreneurship opportunities Tech provides were reasons behind her decision to enroll at the university. 

“She has been working on this project since she was in high school. I am so proud of her,” said Kruszka. “She is going to move mountains.” 

In addition to the first, second and third place winners, Tech senior accounting major and Cookeville native Mattea Trusty took home the Rural Reimagined Award and a $1,500 scholarship prize. The award is given to the business idea with the greatest potential to impact Tennessee’s rural communities. 

Trusty’s concept was titled Venue 931 and envisions a modern, accessible facility in Cookeville with customizable indoor event spaces with a variety of themes and party packages that can be rented to suit differing budgets and requirements. 

Trusty, who uses a wheelchair, said the idea came to her when she could not attend a birthday party for a friend because the venue was not wheelchair accessible. 

Other winners included Charissa Smith, a senior computer science major from Murfreesboro, for best trade show booth. Smith’s idea was titled The Pot and is an app to divide costs for group purchases. She describes it as a solution to “the never-ending issue of getting the short end of the stick in any group trip.” 

The Clouse-Elrod Foundation, a sponsoring partner for Eagle Works, also presented awards in three categories. Dozier won the Virgie Elrod Clouse Creativity Award for Beam while Kauffman won the Robert O. Clouse Innovation Award for SafeSTICK. 

Ethan Johnson, a senior horticulture major from Mount Juliet, took home the Dr. Wil Clouse Maverick Award for an indoor gardening concept titled Johnson Farms. Johnson’s product is made from recycled plastic boards and offers what he describes as “a convenient and sustainable method to grow food in your own home.”

Johnson aims to use the product to help those in food deserts. With this year’s competition in the books, Kruszka and Eagle Works staff are already looking forward to the year ahead.

“Stay tuned for our first event of the year in Sept.,” she said. 

Learn more about Eagle Works and watch video of this year’s competition at https://www.tntech.edu/innovation/eagleworks/.

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

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