Canyon Challenge finalists gear up for ‘Sharks’

March 04, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

The five Canyon Challenge finalists have been chosen. Now they have to survive Grand Canyon University’s version of “Shark Tank.”

The third annual competition, patterned after the ABC-TV reality show in which aspiring entrepreneurs go before a panel of investors, or “sharks,” to present their business ideas, is scheduled for 1 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at First Southern Baptist Church, adjacent to campus. All faculty, staff and students are invited, and support groups are encouraged to come to cheer on their favorite.

Canyon Challenge artA total of $10,000 in prize money will be awarded – $7,000 for first place, $2,000 for second and $1,000 for third. Each finalist will have 10 minutes to speak and five minutes to answer questions from judges, who will review the plans of the five finalists in advance of the competition.

Attendees can expect to see the best Canyon Challenge yet, according to Tim Kelley, associate professor in the Ken Blanchard College of Business and the organizer of the event. He said preliminary judges told him they were impressed with the quality of the 10 finalists, from which the final five were chosen, and while the total number of entries (66) was down slightly from last year, the requirements were more stringent this time. “Before, we allowed anything,” Kelley said.

The finalists, in alphabetical order:

  • Crazy Cheer Mom:  Ginger Dorsett, from Lake Havasu City, proposes to market quality hair bows to cheerleaders and cheerleading organizations. Dorsett’s business plan states that cheerleaders spend up to $4,000 a year, and because uniforms tend to be similar, their bows can set a team apart: “The goal of Crazy Cheer Mom is to lower the direct cost on the parents of the athletes by providing quality custom cheer bows that more accurately reflect the cost of the product.”
  • Deluxe Sky Productions: Lemmy Gitahi, who says that he was on a team of 13 that were the youngest commercial pilots in Kenya, wants to service the luxury real-estate market with aerial cinematography and photography through Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The target market is properties selling for more than $1 million. According to Gitahi, there are 10 real-estate companies and more than 200 realtors classified as “high end” in the Phoenix area alone.
  • iStudent Nurse: Rebecca McLarkey is the leader of a group of nursing students dedicated to the academic, personal and professional success of their fellow future nurses by providing access to the best products and most comprehensive resources to a group that has a high attrition rate. The group already has established a website ( dedicated to helping the 350,000 people in undergraduate nursing programs in the United States.
  • Kate and Ali’s Faith Food Fitness: GCU senior Katie Leiler, an Air Force veteran and certified personal trainer, took second place in last year’s competition with her Food With Purpose protein shakes and other healthful food options. This time, she wants to create a tri-purpose gym, the first of its kind, to enable members to combine the power of their faith with healthful eating and exercise habits to reach their full potential in life. She aims to open a brick-and-mortar location near Christ’s Church of the Valley on Happy Valley Road in Peoria and partner with the megachurch as well as Discover Foods.
  • M Power Learning Group: Joshua Christensen, who has 18 years of experience in the financial industry, wants to provide financial literacy for faithful families through quality and affordable courses, products, and content. The group was developed with the home-school parent in mind and seeks to help the 2.2 million home-school students in the country. Christensen and his co-founder, David Libby, are home-schooling dads.

The other entries among the final 10 that didn’t advance to the finals:

  • BJackson Stylist: Unique hair and nail services and quality beauty products available in a studio or in the privacy of one’s home.
  • Fire Safety Shooter (FSS): A more effective sprinkler for the fire safety market, which has not changed dramatically in 50 years.
  • Layers Pizza Emporium: A new twist to cook-it-yourself pizzas, giving customers the freedom to create their own at the Make and Take Buffet or at home with a pre-packaged Family Time Pizza Project.
  • Lopewater: Would provide water dispensers in various locations across campus, with the goals of providing clean water and preventing the use of disposable water bottles.
  • MiWae Inc.: Dedicated to the enlightenment, elevation and transformation of life coaches looking to build a successful business practice; businesses seeking to help employees reach peak performance; and individuals hoping to build positive business and personal relationships.

The five judges will be Brian Mueller, GCU’s president and CEO; Dr. Ken Blanchard, the servant-leadership guru whose name is on the University’s business school; Alan Lobock, co-founder of SkyMall; Sheldon Harris, former president of the Cold Stone Creamery franchise; and restaurateur Lauren Bailey of Postino’s.

Reid Simpson, president of GCU’s IDEA (Innovation, Development and Entrepreneurship Association) and a second-place finisher in the first Canyon Challenge, said he is thrilled with how the quality of the competition has improved.

The competition’s goal is to create a company that was “organically grown at GCU,” he said. “I really want to build a community of start-ups willing to make a go of it.”

To look at each finalist’s business plan and Powerpoint presentation, go to

Contact Rick Vacek at 639.8203 or

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