Marshall students win at business competition

April 7, 2019

HUNTINGTON — Three Marshall University students took first place during the final round of the first West Virginia Innovation & Business Model Competition, which took place Saturday at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards Playhouse in the Francis Booth Experimental Theater in Huntington.

The competition came together as a collaborative effort between all the business schools in West Virginia. The first round took place at each school in March, and the qualifying entries presented their pitches to a panel of judges Saturday to compete for cash prizes.

The winning pitch, “Millions for Medicine,” the brain-child of Marshall University students Sarah Moir, Kelly Leonard and Mya Linden, is a health care lottery system that aspires to help people struggling with medical debt. Lottery tickets are sold for $1, and 50% of the money goes to a person with medical debt, 45% goes to the lottery winner and 5% goes to the company.

The three received a $5,000 cash prize and advance to the International Business Model Competition at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to compete for the world championship and $40,000. They will also receive an expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley, where they will work with Intuit executives on business innovation.

Elizabeth Morgan and Brandon Well’s Creating Greener Solutions, another Marshall University team, took second place. University of Charleston student Sarah Ball took third place with her Wireless Telemetry pitch. Those winners received $3,000 and $1,000, respectively.

Each team that qualified for Saturday’s competition received $500.

The competition is centered around a concept called “design thinking,” a methodology used in Silicon Valley to develop business models. Olen York, instructor of entrepreneurship at Marshall University, said the competition gives students the opportunity to delve into the concept and actually work with it.

“The methodology is a proven methodology used in Silicon Valley to launch successful startups, and that’s something we need here to kind of change the ecosystem,” York said. “We rely too much on big businesses relocating here to create jobs, and there are plenty of opportunities for us to create jobs through entrepreneurship.”

The winning team said the opportunity to learn design thinking and innovation allowed them to fall in love with their idea, which made it get bigger than they had imagined it getting. The Millions for Medicine team actually had success while developing a prototype for the model and were able to give people money toward their medical debts.

“I think this is a great opportunity for West Virginia, too, because it’s just giving more opportunities to do design thinking and get the word out there that it does exist and it’s a great process,” Leonard said.

York said the competition developers are looking to expand partnerships beyond state lines into Kentucky and Ohio in the coming years.

“This is truly a Tri-State economy, and we want to be inclusive in that light,” York said.

Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.