Drink, Eat and Work Out: Winning Business Plans Build on Simple Ideas

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Three deceptively simple ideas took the prizes at the inaugural VIBE Business Plan Competition, held on May 3.

2017 VIBE Business Plan Competition

Winners' Circle

1st Place: $25,000 cash + $25,000 in-kind services
Tart Hard Cider
Zoë Van Schyndel, vet. U.S. Army, Evergreen State College faculty; Nick Timm, vet. U.S. Air Force

2nd Place: $5,000 cash
Tacoma Dough
Lydia Mautz, '17; Jeremy Mautz; Raymond Mautz, vet. U.S. Navy

3rd Place: $2,000 cash
Oli Fitness
Alexander Orozco, B.S. Computer Science & Systems, ’17; Charlton Smith, Senior (computer science & systems); Chris DeJarlais, B.A. Business Administration, ’16, B.S. Computer Science & Systems, ’16; Peter Chu, Junior (computer science & systems), vet. U.S. Air Force; Jeremy Crawford, chief design officer, MediaDojo Inc.

An artisanal cidery. Raw cookie dough served like ice cream. A personal fitness expert on your smart device.

These deceptively simple ideas took the prizes at the inaugural VIBE Business Plan Competition on May 3, 2017.

The five teams competing in the final round of the competition—which started in April with 15 teams—also included businesses that propose to develop innovative treatments for gastrointestinal diseases and an employee recruitment mobile app.

According to the rules of the competition, each competing team had to have at least one veteran or active military team member. Teams were not required to have UW Tacoma students, faculty or staff as members, but many of the 15 initial competitors, and two of the finalists, did.

Tacoma-based investor and entrepreneur John B. Dimmer served as a judge for the final round of the competition.

“As far as I’m aware, we have never seen anything like the VIBE Business Plan Competition in the South Sound before,” said Dimmer. “The building of an entrepreneurial community here in Tacoma is the key to the economic development vision many have for the region. A competition like VIBE’s gets people thinking about being entrepreneurial.”

“One of Tacoma’s secret ingredients in the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is the veteran population in the South Sound,” said Dimmer. “Veterans are incredibly predisposed to be entrepreneurs. Their military training and battlefield skills give them an ability to focus on the tasks of launching a startup that is incredibly valuable.”

Peter Chu is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and an engineer on the Oli Fitness team, which took third place in the VIBE competition, winning $2,000. Chu and his fellow team members are developing a suite of integrated services and technologies for the personal fitness/weight training market. Chu is also a junior at UW Tacoma, studying computer science and systems at the Institute of Technology.

“Getting into the final round of this competition is an incredible motivator,” said Chu. “We really began to see the potential of what we could do with this company. Getting the input from the judges—people who are successful in business—sort of poking and prodding at our ideas, improving them, that’s been a huge help.”

Members of the Oli Fitness team at the 2017 VIBE Business Plan Competition investment round, held at UW Tacoma on April 26, 2017.

Alumna Lydia Mautz, ’17, (she graduated in March, just as the VIBE competition was gearing up) entered the competition in partnership with her brother, Jeremy, and father, Raymond Mautz, a veteran of the U.S. Navy. The group originally sent four different plans to competition organizers, but their VIBE-assigned mentor quickly convinced them to focus on just one.

“Going through the competition was scary at first,” said Lydia. “I was not actually intending to enter when I first heard about it, but [VIBE coordinator James Stevens] pushed me, saying, ‘You better put your plan in!’ “

The team won second place, and $5,000, with their plan to launch Tacoma Dough, a raw cookie dough company, Tacoma Dough. They will focus initially on sales through farmers’ markets, but a brick-and-mortar location is in the plan, as well.

The first-place winners are Zoë Van Schyndel and Nick Timm, co-founders of Tart Hard Cider, a commercial cidery in Olympia that targets the artisanal market. Their product is distinguished by having significantly less sugar and no “back-sweetening” (adding sweeteners after the fermentation process).

Zoë teaches finance on the faculty at Evergreen State College and served in the Army. Nick is a veteran of the Air Force and an alumnus of Evergreen. They both have significant business experience: they run a non-profit; she ran a socially-responsible hedge fund; he is a partner in a business east of the Cascades, and his family owns apple orchards.

The first prize comes with $25,000 in cash and a like amount of in-kind legal, marketing and mentoring services. Thomas Kuljam, VIBE director, says the in-kind services are as equally important as the cash to a startup. “Having the in-kind services as part of the package will allow the team to use the entire $25,000 cash for working capital. And the in-kind service providers will develop lifelong business relationships with the new business owners,” said Kuljam.

Nick Timm says winning the competition will make a big difference in the launch of their cidery. “It’s literally going to move us ahead by a year,” he said. The company will be able to hire its first employee, and deals are in the works with several breweries and taverns to sell the product.

Competition judge John Dimmer says that the success of the inaugural VIBE Business Plan Competition is a step forward for the development of a South Sound entrepreneurial culture. “This is great that we had the first year. It’s a fantastic foundation. Now we have to make sure we have year two. We have to ratchet the VIBE Business Plan Competition up to the next level. As it grows, it will be transformative for our community.”

Written by: 
John Burkhardt / May 12, 2017
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu