Auburn University students who developed a personalized electrotherapy garment to aid injury rehabilitation earned $50,000 in funding and services as winners of the fourth annual Tiger Cage student business pitch competition.
Presented by Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, Tiger Cage identifies and rewards the best early-stage products, services, and business concepts that emerge from Auburn University students.
ESCAPE Therapy – the business concept of doctoral students Sarah Gascon (kinesiology), Matt Hanks (kinesiology), and Dawn Michaelson (consumer and design services) – walked away with the grand prize, edging three other finalists on Friday, April 6, at the Auburn University Hotel and Dixon Conference Center. Teams presented their ideas to a panel of industry judges in a manner similar to “Shark Tank.” Judges included Delphinus Medical Technologies CEO Mark Forchette, River Bank & Trust CEO Jimmy Stubbs, Frontier Labs Co-Founder Sean Cook, Tara Wilson Agency CEO Tara Wilson and MartinFederal Consulting CEO Corey Martin.
Wilson, a 1997 Harbert College finance graduate, said the judges had a “tough decision” choosing the winner.
“The team that won has an innovative idea and product that has the ability to be scalable and I think that was a big differentiator,” she said. “This team can continue to go on in these competitions and their product will be viable to a larger group of people in the end.
“Tiger Cage certainly shows me that Auburn has put together a great group of intelligent students who are thinking about innovation and entrepreneurship. I was very impressed with all four teams.”
ESCAPE Therapy’s prize rundown included the $25,000 cash grand prize, $15,000 in donated services from Allegiance Merchant Services, and $10,000 in legal services from Bradley Boult Cummings. Gascon, ESCAPE Therapy’s CEO, certainly understands the potential market for her concept – athletic trainers and physical therapists. She is an aspiring 2020 Summer Olympic Games competitor, training at Auburn University with Team USA Handball.
“Usually, physical therapists require you to do some physical therapy at home and they give you instructions,” Gascon explained. “What happens is the patient says that they are going to do the rehab but they don’t. They are really visiting the therapist only seven to 10 sessions. In reality, to receive a full recovery they need more than that. Our garment works in conjunction with the physical therapist. The patient can take it home and they can use it while they are also doing the rehab exercises.
“We are bridging the gap between a physical therapist and a patient.”
Snippety Snap -- comprised of public administration and public policy doctoral candidates Olivia Cook and Courtney Haun -- developed a public cell phone stand and integrated mobile app that allows users to take photographs in popular locations. The team took second place -- winning $10,000 in prize money, $10,000 in donated services, and another $1,000 by earning the People’s Choice Award.
Enki Engineering took third place and $6,000 for its idea to produce a spiral engineering calculation notebook. Team members included junior supply chain management major Terran Ray, junior software engineering major Garrett Raab and sophomore marketing major Jackie Litschewski.
Finishing fourth and winning $4,000 was Savor, a mobile app concept focusing on the reduction of food waste. The team included junior business major Evan Walker, senior software and aerospace engineering major Rain Li and computer science graduate student Abhishek Jariwala.
Gascon described ESCAPE Therapy’s Tiger Cage journey from business idea in September to 2018 champion as “very long.”
“At the start of it, it was just an idea that we wrote on paper,” she said. “We didn’t know how to write an executive summary and we didn’t know what a business model was. We knew nothing in terms of how to operate a true business.”
Then Gascon smiled and said, “But we are doctoral students and are very high achievers.”
“We had to learn all of the different aspects of how to build and develop a business – and we perfected our craft. It’s remarkable that we were here (in the finals) because we think about the first few months and it was just an idea and we didn’t know what we were doing. Now, we have business people coming up and talking to us. We received a lot of mentoring from Dr. (Lakami) Baker. That really helped direct what we wanted to say, how we wanted to say it, and what we want to think about in terms of having a successful business. This is our next adventure after school and we’re looking forward to hitting the ground running.”
ESCAPE Therapy already has a list of potential customers. “A lot of my Team USA teammates are saying, “When will this come out? We want it right now!” Gascon added.
In all, Top Tigers companies represented 46 cities and 13 states and achieved an average growth rate of 37 percent. The companies were ranked in the small ($500,000 to $5 million in revenue), medium ($5 million to $20 million in revenue) and large ($20 million and above in revenue) revenue categories.
Airship, a Birmingham-based provider of high-quality web and mobile applications co-founded and led by Harbert College graduate Trent Kocurek, took top honors in the small revenue category. The Tara Wilson Agency, a Fort Worth, Texas-based experiential marketing firm led by Harbert College alumna Tara Wilson, finished second, while Rent Gear Here, a beach rental company based in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, and owned by Harbert College graduate Phillip Poundstone, took third.
Plano, Texas-based Newline Interactive, a global firm specializing in interactive displays and wireless presentation solutions, earned top honors in the mediumrevenue category. The company is led by CEO Chris Bradford, an Auburn engineering alum. Bellhops, a Chattanooga-based app-enabled moving company co-founded by Harbert College graduate Cameron Doody, earned second place, while Southern Veterinary Partners, a Birmingham-based firm providing centralized support for 42 animal hospitals in 10 states. earned third place.
In the large revenue category, Carter & Carter Construction, a privately held general contracting and construction management firm based in Auburn, topped the list. The company is led by President Collin Carter, who earned degrees from Auburn's College of Architecture, Design & Contsruction and the Harbert College. Second place went to River Bank & Trust, a Prattville-based firm led by CEO and College of Education graduate Jimmy Stubbs. Torch Technologies, a Huntsville-based engineering firm with engineering alum and President John Watson on its leadership team, took third place.