Tech student teams compete in business

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette First-place winner Gary Tropp accepts the $2,000 prize from Dean Johnson, the dean of Michigan Technological University’s School of Business and Economics

HOUGHTON — Fourteen teams of students from Michigan Technological University (MTU) competed for more than $5,000 in prizes in this year’s Bob Mark Business Model Competition.

Sophomore Gary Tropp took the first-place, $2,000 prize as well as winning the MTEC SmartZone Game Changer Award, worth $1,000 and business services and office space from Arroyo Networks.

Each team had five minutes to present their pitch, which was scored by a panel of six judges based on criteria including market analysis, business model considerations and feasibility.

Tropp’s pitch was for VARS (Virtual Advising Registering and Scheduling), a tool to help students register for classes. The program helps students find classes they need that fit their desired schedule, as well as tracking seat availability and collecting advising resources for students.

Tropp came up with the idea during class registration. He couldn’t be at his computer when registration opened, so he spent three days between classes programming VARS to do it for him.

Tropp said that with his prize money he plans on getting better computer equipment to work with and put the rest toward development costs of VARS.

Second and third place were tied this year. Karuna Rana and Mayank Bagaria will split $1,500 in prizes.

Rana pitched an app, Reality Check, that would help shoppers discover facts about the sustainability of products they’re considering in stores.

Bagaria’s proposal was for VAKYA, a set of glasses that would listen to speech and print the text on the lens for the wearer. Bagaria has those with total or partial hearing loss in mind for the first phase, but the second phase could include translation from different languages.

Two runners up were also awarded $250 cash prizes. Russ Crofton, for his pitch of Moonlight Cycles and Deanna Springgay for Little Trainer.

The audience also voted for their favorite, which went to Nate LaBoie and Michael Betz, who pitched the Backpack Keg and were awarded $250.

The event is organized by the MTU Pavlis Honors College and the School of Business and Economics. The cash prizes are funded by the Rick Berquist Foundation, except the Game Changer Award from the SmartZone.

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