Montana Students, Entrepreneurs Excel at 2017 John Ruffatto Startup Challenge

2017 Spring Business Startup Challenge Winners

Last Thursday, the top sixteen submissions for the 28th Annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge convened on the University of Montana campus to present their winning business ideas. From classic culinary inspirations to the latest technological applications, this year’s competition was full of fresh, innovative ideas that promise to enrich and inspire the Montana business community.

After pitching four times to four different sets of judges during the day on Thursday, the sixteen teams were whittled down to the Final Four:

Clark Fork Charcuterie - Alyssa Tutskey & Joe Locatelli: Locally harvested and produced artisan meats

Crepe Cuisine - Kassi Soelter: A Missoula food truck offering traditional sweet and savory French crepes

Ryffit Books - Brandon Orr: An online platform for designing and creating customized music books

Cowboy Cricket Farms - James Rolin: An unconventional farm venture raising human-grade crickets and producing a variety of healthy, protein-packed food products, including cricket flour and Chocolate Chirp Cookies

Thursday evening, in front of fellow students, judges and community members, all sixteen original teams were given the opportunity to present their businesses in a 60 second elevator pitch (on which the public voted). The pitches tested the competitors' abilities to deliver the key missions, brands and values of their businesses in a clever and concise way.

This was followed by the final presentations of the top four teams. Each team was given 20 minutes, including Q&A from the judges and audience, to pitch their business one last time. The judges then voted on their ranking of the final four while the public voted on the "People's Choice" award and "Best Elevator Pitch".

In the end, the poise, professionalism, and solid business model of Cowboy Cricket Farms won out, taking the top prize of $15,000. Ryffit, the prized product of one of the business school's own MBA students, Brandon Orr, came in second, earning a prize of $7,500, followed by Clark Fork Charcuterie ($5,000) and Crepe Cuisine ($2,500).

In addition to the final round prizes, there were a number of special awards given out as well, including those the public audience voted on. These winners are listed below. In total, the 28th Annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge awarded over $50,000 in prize money this year.

Special Awards:

Best Elevator Pitch (Audience Chosen) - Kassi Soelter, Crepe Cuisine, $3,500

People's Choice (Audience Chosen) - James Rolin, Cowboy Cricket Farms, $3,500

Brandon Speth Award for Charisma, Passion, & Poise - Kassi Soelter, Crepe Cuisine, $1,000

Intent to Launch Award - James Rolin, Cowboy Cricket Farms, $1,000

Manufactured Product Award - James Rolin, Cowboy Cricket Farms, $1,000

Polymath Award - Vanessa Bakken, Farmented, $2,500

Athena Award - Vanessa Bakken, Farmented, $3,000

Started in 1989, the startup challenge is one of the University of Montana’s premier student competitions. Inviting university students from all over the state to participate, this joint partnership between the School of Business and UM’s Blackstone LaunchPad provides unbelievable opportunities and exposure for aspiring entrepreneurs. For more information on the competition, winners, and amazing sponsors, please visit the startup challenge website.