Storage Together prevails in Canyon Challenge
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Slaven Gujic
GCU News Bureau
Jim Goulka has judged a lot of entrepreneurial competitions. When you do that enough, you’re not easily impressed.
“It’s not just the presentation,” the managing director of Arizona Tech Investors said. “It’s not just a pretty face and slick words. It’s, ‘Is there substance?’”
That made it even more impactful Thursday when Goulka was so impressed by Storage Together, which took home the $6,000 first prize in the sixth annual Canyon Challenge at Grand Canyon University in a unanimous vote by the five judges.
It was not exactly a shocking victory. Storage Together, which connects people who need space to store their possessions with those who have space to rent or share, won the Phoenix Smart City Hack in October and a month later won an entrepreneurial competition in Barcelona.
But Goulka has seen the progress in the presentation and the business model since he first heard the Storage Together pitch last summer in another competition he was judging.
“There’s a business there,” Goulka said. “The issue always is, can you make something happen in real life? Business is an executable thing that the people in it should be executing, and they look like they have the ability to execute. They looked like they really could make something happen.
“They talked about insurance. They talked about how they recruited people with space. They talked about near-term markets. That’s pretty good stuff right away.”
How they finished
The other big winner Thursday was Outbound Explorers, an app that helps people find adventurous activities, such as surfing, hiking, kayaking or even cliff jumping, and invites them to share their experiences. It won $3,000 for being chosen as the No. 2 finisher by the judges and also got $1,000 for finishing second in the online voting by the audience.
The winner of the audience vote, and the $3,000 that goes with it, was Coloot, which provides free crowd funding for entrepreneurial and socially conscious ventures and seeks to make money through its clothing brand.
The audience also chose Coloot and Outbound Explorers as the two best vendors in the lobby of the GCU Arena before the competition. That’s worth $500 apiece. Coloot also was awarded a scholarship, worth up to $500, by Seed Spot, the Phoenix business incubator.
The third-place finisher in the judges’ vote, a $1,000 prize, was Zenjoi, which has created virtual-reality treatments, such as a video of someone running on the beach, to help alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
The fifth finalist was Secured Together, a platform that gives verified users on a college campus, such as student leaders, the ability to warn others of potential dangers.
The other judges, besides Goulka, were Natalie Speers, a 2014 GCU graduate who is CEO of Social Ally; Jane Dobbs, CEO of Canyon State Credit Union; Michael Hool, founding partner of Hool Coury Law; and Zach Ferres, CEO of Coplex, a software development firm.
“The deep experience of our judges helps our entrepreneurs be more competitive, and we are fortunate to have them be a part of our GCU spirit of entrepreneurship,” said Tim Kelley, assistant professor for entrepreneurship and economics in the Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) and the emcee for Thursday’s event.
A lot happened in a year
Storage Together’s victory was the culmination of a yearlong effort that wasn’t always easy. It was in the top 10 in last year’s Canyon Challenge but didn’t make the cut when the five finalists were chosen.
Its creator, Luke Amargo, remembers how in their first competition, “we got destroyed in there. We had to pivot and make sure that people on the team were working together. We got a whole year to plan for this. If we did it last year, we wouldn’t have been ready. We thought we were, but we weren’t.”
Another member of the team, Braeden Scheer, said that taking part in multiple competitions has made a difference:
“It’s been phenomenal for our growth as a team and for us as a business. We go into every single competition as one version of the company and come out a better version. Even the questions we receive from the panel of judges we had today help us strengthen our model where it’s weak.”
All of the teams in the competition, sponsored by GCU’s IDEA Club (Innovation, Development & Entrepreneurship Association), have access to an experienced team of advisers in CCOB, and the words of one of them resonated as Storage Together kept improving its pitch.
Jedidiah Woods said that Paul Waterman reminded the team that Apple founder Steve Jobs used to practice his presentations for hundred of hours.
“Practice literally does make perfect,” Woods said. “We’ve been blessed with opportunities to practice.”
Access all the time
Dr. Randy Gibb, the CCOB dean, emphasized that “this was not just a Colangelo College of Business event, but a GCU-wide collaboration of business, technology, and engineering. The last few years we have gotten more intentional on creating a culture that fosters innovation and business-savvy students, regardless of the program of study. The IDEA Club is all-inclusive and supports the Lopes Lab (maker space), monthly pitch practices, GCU Marketplace and Canyon Angels due diligence teams as well as our faculty providing nonstop startup consulting and mentoring. Our students are doing great work and demonstrating that business is truly a force for good.”
That culture has benefited the Canyon Challenge, open to students, prospective students and staff at GCU. The range, scope and polish of the businesses continues to leap forward.
“I think it’s partly because we have a constant process all year long – the opportunity for our students to participate in these competitions that start in August,” Kelley said. “There’s no timeline to entrepreneurship and there’s no end, either. You can start anytime, and we can put you in front of any level of global competition.”
And in front of judges who know what they’re doing. Impressing them could be a huge first step.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.