Nursing students win Canyon Challenge
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Going into the finals of Grand Canyon University’s third annual Canyon Challenge, the iStudentNurse team of Rebecca McLarkey, Anna Bright and Tonya Smith didn’t know what to expect.
“It was very exciting just to share our idea,” Smith said. “We didn’t even think about winning.”
Well, now they have a few things to think about. First, they need to figure out to handle the $7,000 they earned for finishing first in the competition Thursday before a crowd of 250 at First Southern Baptist Church. And then there’s that little matter of graduating in a month, in addition to growing iStudentNurse.com, their fledgling website for nursing students.
No problem. After all, they built and populated their website, released to the public in December, and affiliated with 30 vendors while going to GCU.
“C’mon, we’ve been through nursing school,” McLarkey said. “We can do this.”
M Power Learning Group, dedicated to providing financial literacy to faith-based families of home-schooled children, received the $2,000 prize for finishing second, and Deluxe Sky Productions, which provides drones for cinematography and photography in the luxury real-estate market, got $1,000 for taking third. The other two finalists were Crazy Cheer Mom (hair bows for cheerleaders) and Kate and Ali’s Faith Food Fitness (health club with a Christian environment).
The five judges were 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. They said they were impressed most by the functionality and scalability of iStudentNurse.com, coupled with the high demand for nurses and the many challenges of nursing school, which is why the website was born.
“Their market is incredible,” Blanchard said. “They had already made so many good contacts, and they had a team.”
Harris viewed the website before the competition and came away impressed. “I think they identified a completely unmet need in the market,” he said.
Lobock said, “They had a tight concept targeted to a reasonable market. And they had thought through their costs well.”
Bailey said the group’s plans to widen their market by appealing to emergency medical technicians (EMTs) also caught the judges’ attention.
McLarkey, who plans to work in critical care, said her team has a number of items on its to-do list as its works to get established. First up is to open a business account, but they also plan to get more legal reviews, improve the structure of the site with more professional coding, target products to different learning styles and create avenues for customer feedback. However, the heavy lifting already has been done, both on the site and in their studies.
“We had to put school first,” McLarkey said.
Joshua Christensen, co-founder of M Power Learning Group, said he was hoping to win the $7,000 but is grateful for anything, given that his company has been largely self-funded to this point.
“It’s exciting to have a little bit of cash. It’s definitely going to help,” said Christensen, an online student scheduled to get his bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial studies in the fall of 2015. “We’ll just have to scale it differently. This is a cool confirmation.”
Lemmy Gitahi, whose Deluxe Sky idea got the most votes in a show of hands among the attendees before the judges’ vote was announced, plans to use his winnings toward putting together a team of employees. “I’m pushing on,” he said. He majors in forensic science and minors in entrepreneurial studies and is set to graduate in April 2015.
Patterned after the ABC-TV show “Shark Tank,” the Canyon Challenge drew 66 entries this year, bringing the total to almost 200 in its three years. It drew its biggest audience yet, and for the first time a pre-competition luncheon at the Student Union brought together the finalists and the judges. The consensus was that the overall quality of the ideas and the presentations also was a step up.
“I think in general they all were competent speakers. They presented themselves well,” said Tim Kelley, associate professor in the Ken Blanchard College of Business and organizer of the Challenge. “Each idea was different, which made it more challenging for the judges.
“I think it shows we have entrepreneurship here.”
Contact Rick Vacek at 639.8203 or [email protected].