TAMPA — Seven groups of entrepreneurs went into the University of South Florida's version of the Shark Tank on Friday. One came out with the top prize — a $15,000 check to help fund their startup.
South Tampa Paintball won the 2013 Fintech Business Plan Competition based on a rousing presentation by Casey Henry, a finance major at USF. At 21, she was the youngest competitor and only undergraduate student.
"Her presentation skills were off the charts. She had every angle covered and knew her business," said Allen Clary, one of eight judges chosen for their entrepreneurial experience. He is the chief operating officer of Infusion Brands, a Clearwater-based consumer products company centered on tools and home goods.
Henry and her business partner, Amy Abdnour, are opening an outdoor paintball arena this summer at 5005 Performance Park Blvd., south of Tampa's Palmetto Beach. They raised $80,000 in startup capital but, coincidentally, needed $15,000 more to get the business going. It will cater to tournament paintball players ages 12 to 38, rather than recreational ones.
"There's a market out there that no one's covering right now," said Henry, who started playing paintball in middle school.
The company chose the name to create an upscale feel to a traditionally low-brow sport, even though the site isn't technically in South Tampa. Judges liked the strategy and thought the concept had the potential to expand to other markets.
"You're going to put skin in the game, and that's what we want to see," said Scott Riley, CEO of Fintech, the event's sponsor. "I like its simplicity. We're not changing the world here, but you're thinking big."
Henry, whose parents were in the audience, was thankful for the award, saying, "It's nice when hard work pays off."
About 25 groups applied for the seven presenter slots, a sign of USF's strong entrepreneurial spirit. All had to be a limited liability corporation or other legal entity in Florida, and at least one member of the ownership group had to be a current graduate or undergraduate student at USF. It wasn't modeled after the ABC show Shark Tank, but it similarly has entrepreneurs pitching their companies in front of potential investors.
The judges awarded honorable mentions to ShipSharps and 1 Apple. ShipSharps offers medical clinics, tattoo parlors and other businesses that use needles a way to dispose of their biomedical waste through regular mail, while 1 Apple is a grocery store in Sulphur Springs that caters to people on WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and other government-funded programs. It opened in late 2011 and wants to add more locations near WIC offices.
Other presenting companies were OpportunityMed.com, a job-finding website for doctors; MedEx, a company selling excess medical supplies to developing countries; Nautilida Solar, which manufacturers solar energy systems that generate electricity and thermal energy; and Pretty Argan, a seller of all-natural Argan oil hair and skin products made in Morocco. Each group had about 20 minutes to make pitches and field questions from the judges.
The fifth annual competition was hosted by USF's Center for Entrepreneurship in collaboration with the colleges of business, engineering and medicine, and the Patel School of Global Sustainability. Last year's winner was a startup that makes videos to help school-age children learn science.
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.