John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge

Invite to Business Startup Challenge on May 15The Business Startup Challenge, formerly known as the John Ruffatto Business Plan Competition, is a Montana-wide event which encourages innovation and creative thinking. Hosted annually by the University of Montana School of Business Administration since 1989, the Business Startup Challenge is Montana's premiere opportunity for students attending any college or university across Montana to present exciting new businesses and/or social entrepreneurship venture ideas for adjudication.

The Business Startup Challenge is run by the Montana Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs (MADE) and the Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana.  

Spring 2015 Montana Statewide Business Startup Challenge
Thursday, May 14, 2015 
Over $50,000 in prizes,
51 world-class judges,
16 Montana collegiate teams,
and it was indeed the experience of a lifetime!

Chad Miller, first place

UM School of Business Administration MBA student Chad Miller won the top award of $15,000 for his business plan, Purus. Purus is a Montana-based company dedicated to engineering a sustainable wastewater treatment solution for the oil and gas industry.

The University of Montana School of Business Administration and the Montana Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs have announced the winners of the 26th annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge.

During the 13-hour challenge held May 14 at the UM Gallagher Business Building, 16 student teams competed during the day for judging and presentations, leading up to the evenings final round, during which they presented their business plans to a panel of 51 judges and an audience of close to 250.

Many student teams were originally nominated in April by faculty from higher education institutions across Montana for consideration in the event, which is designed to encourage Montana students to develop their business ideas and learn about entrepreneurship from business experts.

The event is judged and coached by venture capitalists, angel investors, bankers, successful entrepreneurs and corporate executives who share their expertise and commit their time before and during the competition.

Support from several sponsors and private donors funded the over $50,000 prize purse and the students’ competition expenses. Details on the awards and winners follow.

  • First place: Purus – UM MBA student Chad Miller of Florence. Purus is a Montana-based company dedicated to engineering a sustainable wastewater treatment solution for the oil and gas industry. $15,000 prize.
  • Second place: Doces Brasil – UM MBA student Leo Esteves of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Doces Brasil is an artisan chocolatier company in Missoula that produces and sells high-end Brazilian recipe desserts to retail and wholesale customers. $7,500 prize.
  • Third place: GeoFli – UM MBA student Kyle Pucko of Webster, New York. GeoFli is specifically designed for colleges and universities to create multiple versions of the same URL targeting an exact geographic location, with no coding required. $5,000 prize.
  • Fourth place: United Methanol Corporation – UM student Stephen Jenkins of Bigfork. United Methanol Corporation is a clean technology company focusing on the conversion of low-value woody biomass into high purity methanol and liquid carbon dioxide. $2,500 prize.
  • Best Undergraduate Business Plan Award: Item Bounty – UM-Western student Christopher Casties ofIrvine, California, and Montana State University student Mike Maher of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Item Bounty is a web application that provides an interactive community of requesters and finders. A requester is a user who inputs the specifications of a product or service they’re looking for online and the fee they are willing to pay for someone to find it.
  • Elevator Pitch (60-second team presentation): Ndigena – UM MBA students Thomas Kurdy of Great Falls and Rachel Strasshofer of Missoula. Ndigena produces powerful digital content that includes video production in a lean, documentary style that triggers a consumer’s emotional connection. $2,500 prize.
  • Runner-up Elevator Pitch: Leo Esteves – Doces Brasil. $1,000 prize.

The following special awards were given to teams or individuals based on specific criteria:

  • Brandon Speth Passion, Poise, and Charisma Award: Doces Brasil – Leo Esteves, $1,000 prize.
  • People’s Choice Award: Purus – Chad Miller. $2,500 prize.
  • Polymath Award: Leg Up Innovations – UM student Chantanelle Nava of Shepherd. Leg Up Innovations makes life easier for people on crutches. The apparatus attaches to a standard crutch to create a stable, adjustable footrest to place an injured leg on. $2,500 prize.
  • Most Dynamic and Scalable Award: Purus – Chad Miller. $1,000 prize.
  • Blackstone Launchpad Innovation Award:Dungeon Emporium – UM student William Milligan of Havre. Dungeon Emporium is a website to distribute various products designed for use with the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop role-playing game. $1,000 prize.
  • Manufactured Product Award: United Methanol Corporation – Stephen Jenkins. $1,000 prize.
  • Feasibility Award: Monter Consulting – UM student Katherine Vincent of Missoula. Monter Consulting is a full-service online marketing agency offering web development and graphic design services with expertise in search engine rank strategy. $1,000 prize.

Sponsors Make the Business Startup Challenge Possible!

Presented in collaboration with

   Missoula Economic Partnership logo

Palladium Sponsors-2015

   First Interstate Bank logo  William and Cheryl Papesh

Platinum Sponsors-2015

       Advanced Technology Group logo  Adventure Life logo  Allegiance
ALPS logo AEV logo Blackfoot logo
Blackstone Launchpad at UM logo Dorsey logo Gianforte logo
Missoula Federal Credit Union logo Missoulian logo Montana Timber Products logo
 RBC Wealth Management logo  School of Business Administration at UM logo  Securities America logo
S.G. Long and Company logo Seaspan logo Stockman Bank logo
Surgical Principals logo KT and Carol Thuerbach University of Montana logo

Gold Sponsors            

Big Sky Brewing logo 
 Broadway Inn logo  Campus Inn logo
City Brew logo
 Comfort Inn  C'mon Inn logo  Doubletree by Hilton Missoula Edgewater logo  First Security Bank logo
 Five On Black logo  Freedom Bank logo  Holiday Inn logo  L.A. Terrace Suite logo
 Montana Ambassadors logo  Motel 6 logo  NorthWestern Energy logo  PayneWest Insurance logo
 Republic Services of Montana logo  MTB Management logo  U.S. Bank logo  Wells Fargo logo

Silver Sponsors

Anderson Zurmuehlen & Co.
Bretz RV and Marine
Culligan Water
Farmers State Bank
Goodworks Ventures
Greg Sauber
Nils Ribi Endowment

Bronze Sponsors

Beach Transportation
Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce 
Wall Street Journal