The BizTech Challenge™ is a STEM-based pitch competition, developed by Nexus Louisiana, that allows students attending Louisiana’s historically Black colleges and universities to validate their business ideas, build real businesses and even win some cash.
“These students are so bright and we want to demonstrate that entrepreneurship is an accessible, viable pathway from them,” says Na’Tisha Natt, Nexus Louisiana’s director of marketing and communications.
The BizTech Challenge™ wants a product or service design that incorporates a STEM-based element or platform such as a mobile app, software product, hardware product, software as a service or internet-based company. The competition also seeks products or services based on scientific research. Projects can be based on prior work, provided that work was completed by one or more students on the team or is an approved usage of the university’s intellectual property.
Five teams — two from Southern University, two from Southern University Law Center and one from Grambling State University — competed to win cash and mentorship. They were:
- One Code Club at Southern University from MBA student Ajayi Anwansedo. She wants to use real-life projects to teach young kids how to code.
- Town Hallz at Southern University Law Center with Ariyawn Johnson, Victoria Kelley, Dylan Workman, Chamille Muse and James Henderson.They want to give a legal forum for people who are interested in politics and legal issues in today’s society.
- GIFT’D at Grambling State University with seniors Madgrie Francis, Latoya Guiste and Nimron Bonnie.They are building a mobile app for consumer-to-consumer sales of unwanted wasted gift cards and figured out a solution to that problem.
- LaReform at Southern University Law Center with Marissa Bolsey. She wants to create a directory of locally sourced products and businesses to help people who want to shop local.
- B.I.M., which stands for Believe in Me, at Southern University from senior Rason Irvin and sophomore Nicolas Hardin. They aim to digitally tokenize artists and creatives so people can invest directly in their careers.
All five teams received business mentorship, professional coaching and stipends to travel to New Orleans for the big event on Friday, Nov. 26, which was held before the Bayou Classic, the legendary annual football game between Grambling and Southern, which was on Saturday, Nov. 27.
The Grambling 3-Peat
A team from Grambling State has won the BizTech Challenge™ again! GIFT’D came away with $7,500 in prize money and the validation that their idea to create an app-based secondary market for unused gift cards is a strong one.
“We were taking away a lot more than just a check. We’re taking away from this experience all of the connections that we’ve made here that are really happy for and excited us,” said Madgrie Francis of GIFT’D, who is a biological sciences major at Grambling. “Hopefully you’ll see it in the app store. iOS and Android, we are coming for you.”
Kenneth T. Tanner, who now works for Cisco and is a BizTech Challenge™ veteran, mentored GIFT’D. Tanner was on the team that won the pitch competition for Grambling in 2016. “It was a full-circle moment from the competition,” Nexus Louisiana’s Natt says. “I’m so proud of the ripple effects the BizTech Challenge™ has created at HBCUs.”
Grambling computer science professor Prasanthi Sreekumari was the GIFT’D’s faculty coach. Teams from Grambling also won the BizTech Challenge™ in 2019 and 2018. (The competition was not held in 2020 because of the pandemic.)
In 2019, a Grambling team developed a business model for a mobile application that alerts and monitors homeowners of structural risks and damages in real time, called MiEye. In 2018, a Grambling team pitched Digital ID, an app designed to consolidate multiple forms of identification into one.
Grambling’s football team also won the Bayou Classic. Southern was not completely shut out, however. One Code Club won $5,000 and finished second. B.I.M. placed third and received a $2,500 award.
The BizTech Challenge™ was presented by Louisiana Economic Development, and sponsored by ExxonMobil, Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, Regions Bank and First Guaranty Bank.