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Third annual student startup contest set for March 16

Rafaella Jean Villanueva is one of the students competing in the innovateUNG Pitch Challenge. Her innovation would eliminate excessive commission costs and ease the way to engage in money exchange.

As Rafaella Jean Villanueva traveled around Asia playing tennis as a teenager, she was frustrated that every time she exchanged currency, she lost at least 5% in commission fees. She wanted to find a way to eliminate such costs.

Now pursuing a finance degree at the University of North Georgia (UNG), the native of Manila, Philippines, found the perfect spot to get feedback on her idea for a phone application to solve this problem. Villanueva is one of the competitors in the innovateUNG Pitch Challenge, which will be a hybrid event at 6 p.m. March 16.

Hosted by UNG's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the third annual event will feature six student teams competing for prize money. The winning team will earn a $2,000 prize, and the second-place team will win $1,000. The people's choice award, which either of the top two teams is eligible for, is worth $500.

Students also will receive feedback from judges who work in the business world.

Villanueva, who plays on the UNG women's tennis team, has been working since summer 2020 on the app that would eliminate excessive commission costs and ease the way to engage in money exchange. She presented her idea at The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) University Pitch Competition in February and is excited to share her innovation with the UNG community.

"The main thing is getting more feedback, especially from the judges who are experienced with their own businesses," Villanueva said.

The teams of students, practicing social distancing and wearing masks, will deliver their pitches in the special collections room of the Library Technology Center on the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega Campus. Judges will offer their insights via Zoom while spectators can watch online.

Dr. Ruben Boling, the center's director, said the experience helps students build their business toolkit.

"Being able to present in such an environment helps them to develop a strong presentation methodology," Boling said. "So when they go out and get a job or start their own business, they'll be great presenters."

Students also receive pitch training, mentoring, product feedback and professional connections through competing.

This year's other competitors are:

  • Tristan Andrew Acosta: His innovation seeks to increase crop yields using a smaller plot of land through a combination of hydroponics, which is growing plants without soil, and aquafarming, which is the farming of seafood.
  • Kimberly Smith: Her innovation involves floss made from stainless or carbon steel metal that won’t hurt teeth or gums and can be washed and reused.
  • Presley Sutton: Her innovation creates a feed distribution operation that values an environmental mindset by offering bulk feed delivered to customer-chosen bins to support midsized farms.
  • Katherine Schwind: Her innovation is a nonprofit app to help fund overseas missionaries worldwide.
  • Varoon Kadithala, Bradley Litsch and Arnav Patidar, Alliance Academy for Innovation, winners of Feb. 16 innovateUNG High School Pitch Challenge: Their innovation is a line of high-energy snack foods infused with the caffeine-rich South American herb yerba mate.

This year's judges are:

  • Chris Colson, program director of innovation at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  • Cade Joiner, founder of Shred-X Secure Document Destruction and vice chair of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.
  • Mike Masters, founder of M&W Real Estate Development LLC, Cliffhouse Development LLC, and Masters Flooring Company; pilot for American Airlines.
  • Steve Quehl, partner for TechCXO.
  • Robert Rupard, chair of Pro-GeneX Laboratories Inc.

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