Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow
Jumping into the unknown alone? Terrifying.
But childhood best friends Jacob LaFrance and Caleb McCandliss jumped into the shark tank together — well, they dove into the “Shark Tank”-inspired entrepreneurial competition called the Canyon Challenge together and came out the better for it.
LaFrance introduced his best buddy, Caleb McCandliss, to the IDEA Club, which encourages students’ innovative thinking when it comes to building businesses. That encouragement went a long way for the two, who placed first and second at the event, held Friday afternoon at the Canyon Ventures business incubator at 27th Avenue and Camelback Road.
LaFrance’s digital business card, called the Instinct Card, won the $2,500 first-place prize. A tap of the card on a smart phone will transfer information instantly, giving users an easier way to share social channels, contact information, crypto wallets and electronic wallets called NFT wallets, which lets users store NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and other digital currencies.
LaFrance, a GCU entrepreneurship/entrepreneurial studies major, is a fifth-generation business owner who said support from his peers and family members helps drive him in his ventures.
“My parents, already being in the entrepreneur space as well as having a bunch of networking connections around that space, helped me out. I felt like I had all the tools necessary to create my own thing and create my own destiny,” LaFrance said.
McCandliss, a freshman mechanical engineering major, won the $1,500 award of second place for his invention, Car Chap. He got the idea for his business when his mom’s Chapsticks melted in her car in their California hometown. He built a lip balm holder customers can put anywhere, without the mess.
McCandliss is familiar with startup companies because he works as a machinist and programmer for Lux Precision Manufacturing. The company, created by GCU alum Weston Smith, is among the startups housed at Canyon Ventures that receives support from it.
“Getting the opportunity to talk on a stage like this for prize money to help support me and my company, it’s really something special,” McCandliss said. “This is the opportunity (I hoped for and) why I came to GCU.”
Alec Lincoln also sees competing in Canyon Ventures as an opportunity. His company, INTENTIONS, was the third-place winner, which carried prize money of $1,000. His company’s goal is to combat loneliness. He fosters intentional conversations by sharing content on TikTok and created a phone number that people can call anonymously in times of need.
The crowd was moved when Lincoln played a voicemail he received or when he shared a conversation with a young GCU student that got over 2 million views on TikTok.
Robert Vera, Director of Canyon Ventures, was also moved when he heard the voicemail, but with pride.
“What I really love about this place, at GCU, is every kid here is doing something that is transformational. It’s not just transactional. I am overwhelmed with pride for them, of how much they’ve worked. You’ve seen the gap between where they were when you last saw them and where they are now and they’ve just — they’ve filled that gap through hard work, and they’ve really delivered something that I think represents not only themselves but our University.
“I’m just here hanging on for the ride most of the time. They’re leading us, they’re inspiring us.”
Trinity Capital sponsored Canyon Challenge and supplied the three judges for the event: Oscar Mendez Marin, an analyst at Trinity Capital; Jason Isaacson, a business analyst for the firm; and Landen Van Deman, a senior credit analyst.
Elijah Borja, IDEA Club’s president, gave an inspirational speech that resonated with Tim Kelley, Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship and Economics in the Colangelo College of Business and a mentor to entrepreneurs in the Canyon Challenge.
“People don’t buy what you do. It’s how you do it. It’s the connection to the purpose that matters. That’s why our motto here at GCU is ‘Find Your Purpose,’ because that’s the driving force that rallies customers, your employees, your investors and your entire community that helps your business to fill its mission.”
For the 13th year, the Canyon Challenge brought the weekly pitches to the GCU campus. The experience gave the entrepreneurs a collaborative and supportive work environment, but most importantly the motivation to change the world one invention at a time.
GCU News: Lux Longboards rolls into manufacturing